Archive for the 'Media' Category

SSU professor: Egypt revolt not spontaneous

jj March 15th, 2011

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cynthia Boaz

Cynthia Boaz

Observers worldwide were captivated in February as millions of Egyptians overthrew President Hosni Mubarek, who has been in power since 1981. Many also described it as spontaneous.

It wasn’t, said Cynthia Boaz, a political scientist at Sonoma State University.

She met with some of the students who became its leaders in 2008, at a workshop co-organized by the Washington-based nonprofit where she is a paid consultant, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

They discussed the lessons and methods of nonviolent mass civil resistance, and the skills it requires.

Boaz remains in contact with them and said that what is now known as the January 25 Movement, while sparked by a similar revolt in Tunisia, was anything but impromptu.

“I didn’t know they were planning … to start on Jan. 25,” she said, “but I knew the movement had planned for a major action. It’s an organized, planned, disciplined movement.”

Despite the scattered violence that continues, the revolution was overwhelmingly peaceful, waged not with weapons but with voices and placards and mass gatherings.

Boaz, 40, is an expert in nonviolent struggle who consults with educators, activists and students from countries ranging from Spain to Iran. She said toppling repressive regimes is a milestone in the capacity of organized civil resistance movements.

“What happened in Egypt represents a systemwide demand for a new alternative,” she said. “It’s not just about removing the old system from power.

“It was important to get something new for Egyptians, and that really is about democracy.”

Some of the effects are already evident in the largely peaceful protests happening across the Middle East in countries from Bahrain to Yemen.

“It isn’t like these movements have emerged overnight. They’ve just been waiting for an opportunity,” Boaz said.

Libya is an exception because “it’s not organized, there’s not a coherent, unified message,” she said. “It’s not disciplined, and it’s not non-violent.”

Egyptian activists worked for years to identify and neutralize the sources of power in the nation of 83 million. Their effort extended to having coffee with members of the Army.

“It’s a very nuanced divide and conquer strategy,” Boaz said. “You genuinely build real relationships with people, and you begin to help them question the legitimacy of the ruler and the system they’re upholding.”

—–O—–

With the events in the Middle East, Cynthia Boaz is in demand. Before flying to Chile Friday to meet with Latin American diplomats, she talked with The Press Democrat about Egypt’s revolution.

Q: What took place in Egypt has variously been termed a revolt, an uprising, a revolution. Which would you use?

A: Revolution. When power shifted from the regime to the people, that’s what made it a “revolution.”

Q: The revolution is often described as a spontaneous event ignited by the events in Tunisia. To what degree was it organized and why does it matter?

A: This question represents a common and unfortunate misconception about nonviolent action, which is that when you see it, it’s ad-hoc, it’s spontaneous; people just decide to show up in the city square and protest.

But that takes away credit from the activists. When nonviolence succeeds … it’s planned, organized and disciplined.

Q: But doesn’t the suddenness of these events, and how they took place almost simultaneously in these countries, signify a degree of spontaneity?

A: The disaffection and frustration that people feel is long term, so in many of these cases there will be a spark that ignites a population to action.

But that doesn’t mean it’s spontaneous. It means that there may be a movement waiting for a strategic moment in time.

Q: Is it significant that the Egyptian revolution was largely nonviolent?

A: What’s won through violence has to be sustained through violence, so the only truly legitimate way to create democracy is through a bottom-up, nonviolent process.

Also, the long-term consequences of a nonviolent victory in Egypt are that it really increases the credibility of nonviolence.

Young people who are natural bases of recruitment by terrorist organizations are now seeing another option for pushing their grievances — nonviolence.

Q: Regarding legitimacy, what about the American Revolution?

A: Mass non-violent action is relatively new, since the beginning of the 20th Century. It was really perfected by Ghandi …and (the Egyptians) were also looking at Eastern Europe and what happened there in Serbia and Ukraine.

Q: Of the students you know, are any members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is expected to play a role in Egypt’s next election?

A: No. In fact, they are very clear that the movement’s goals and objectives are secular.

See the debate following the publication of this text and the corrections made by Cynthia Boaz at the bottom of this article

Bianca Jagger: We Must Declare a Non-Violent Revolution

jj March 14th, 2011

From Huffington Post

I am calling for a non-violent revolution. A call to arms, without weapons.

On Tuesday the 8th of March, I joined Annie Lennox, Cheri Lunghi, Jude Kelly, Natasha Walter and hundreds of women on a march along London’s Southbank to celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day (IWD).

It was encouraging to see so many women come together, but we should have been thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions perhaps? The first march in 1911 saw over a million women and men campaign to end discrimination against women and to demand equal rights.

Are we so complacent that we feel we do not need to demand gender equality? Many women are convinced there is equality between men and women. The fact however is that the US has never had a female president and, in the UK there has been just one female prime minister out of 52 male leaders. Shouldn’t this be a wake up call to all those who think we have achieved gender equality?

It is true that much progress has been made since the original march for IWD, and women are excelling in many fields. We may have different lives to those of our grandmothers and even our mothers but gender equality has far from been achieved.

Non-Violent Revolutions

In recent months we have seen women at the forefront of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Asmaa Mahfouz, a 25-year-old Egyptian woman has been credited by some as sparking the revolution in Egypt when she posted a YouTube video calling for people to join her in Tahrir Square in a fight for democracy. Of the hundreds of thousands of people who joined Asmaa Mahfouz there was as many women as men. This is a pivotal time in history for the Middle East, and women are playing a significant role in its progression towards democracy and freedom.

After such progress, it was shocking to see this week, a peaceful march led by women in Tahrir square to mark International Women’s Day met with aggression and sexual harassment from a gang of over 200 men.

In many countries around the world women have to physically fight for their voices to be heard. We in the west are lucky that we have a voice, but it must come with an obligation to fight for those women who don’t.

As we see women around the world risk their lives to fight for fairness and freedom, we should be inspired to stand up for our rights, our right to be equal; a right which was passed in 1948, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is yet to be fully achieved.

In response to those who deny the existence of gender discrimination I let the statistics speak for themselves.

Gender Inequality

Women now carry out 60% of the world’s work and produce 50% of the world’s food but only earn 10% of the world’s income and only own 1% of its property. According the UN women make up 70% of the worlds poorest. Two thirds of the 774 million illiterate adults worldwide are women. This is because 70 million girls each year are denied the right to the most basic education.

Women around the world face severe restrictions in freedom and in some cases are condemned to death for allegedly breaking bias moral and religious codes, enforced by men.

Death Penalty

In recent years many cases of gender discrimination, gender related violence and honor killings have been brought to public attention. Some of the most egregious cases I have come across are; Mosammet Hena a 14-year-old girl from Bangladesh, who was allegedly raped and was whipped to death for crimes against honour.

The disturbing case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran for adultery and murder, crimes she has repeatedly denied. Death by stoning is a mandatory sentence for “adultery while married” in Iran. After intense public outcry and campaigning by the international community, human rights organizations including my own The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, the Iranian authorities have since announced that her death sentence has been “suspended”. At present, the outcome of her case remains unclear.

Honor Killing

Honor killings are increasing in the western world, the recent cases of the television executive Muzzammil Hassan who was found guilty of beheading his wife in a suspected honor crime and the Iraqi father, found guilty of running over his 20-year-old daughter in a Arizona car park have shocked America. In 2009 police recorded over 250 incidents of “honor”-based violence in London alone, according to the Guardian.

Female Genital Mutilation and AIDS

Female genital mutilation and AIDS are another threat to women around the world. Action Aid estimates that 75% of all young people in Sub-Saharan Africa with AIDS or HIV are women. 92 million women and girls around the world are believed to have undergone female genital mutilation.

Rape as Weapon of War

Rape has long been used a weapon of war, during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, it is estimated between 250,000-500,000 women were raped. UN Special Reporter Rene Degnu-Segui stated, “rape was the rule, it’s absence the exception”. In 1993 I traveled with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) personnel through Bosnia and Croatia on a fact finding mission to document the mass rape of women, I had been asked to testify before the Helsinki Commission in the US Congress. I listened to hundreds of shocking testimonies of women, who had been brutally raped. It is estimated that during the Bosnian war up to 50,000 women were systematically raped.

Although the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued arrest warrants based on the Geneva Conventions and Violations of the Laws or Customs of War, rape continues to be used as a weapon of war. In 2009 we learned of the brutal raping of 8,000 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, described the country as “the rape capital of the world” speaking of the violence she explained “if women continue to suffer sexual violence, it is not because the law is inadequate to protect them, but because it is inadequately enforced.”

In countries such as Saudi Arabia, women are not even allowed to drive, let alone vote. In Saudi Arabia and in places such as Chechnya, Afghanistan and Somalia women are routinely punished for not adhering to strict dress codes, and can be flogged in the street for showing their faces.

Seven UN member states have not signed the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga. The United States, along with Niue and the Vatican City have not yet ratified it!

Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence

These stories are not freak occurrences, every day women face gender related abuse. I was shocked to learn that globally 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to school each year. In the UK only 7% of rape cases end in conviction and only between 10-20% of rapes are thought to be reported. In the US one in four women can expect to experience domestic violence, and according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes each year.

Decision Makers

Globally there is severe disparity between men and women in parliament, and women make up only 19% of the worlds parliament seats. As of 2011 there were only 17 female Senators in the US out of 100 and 76 women in Congress out of 435. In the UK there are 144 members of parliament out of 650. In a world where leaders such as Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy, Burlesconi, Putin, Gaddafi, Mubarak make headlines daily, we hear relatively little of Gillard, Rousseff, Patil and Fernández de Kirchner, some of the world’s 18 female heads of state. Is it perhaps because they make up such a small percentage of world power or is it because we underestimate the power of women in leadership positions?

The reason why I have emphasized the statistics in this article, is because they speak for themselves. Nevertheless they are easily ignored, but we cannot afford to ignore the reality they represent.

Call to Action

We have the tools to change the world, we can make a difference, we can even change the course of history. The time for further excuses, postponement, or procrastination, for hesitation and prevarication has long passed. Now is the time for courage and leadership. We must take concrete steps to empower women, achieve gender equality, equal legal rights and justice.

We must demand that all countries adhere to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and meet the Millennium Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal primary education, improve maternal health and reduce child mortality, and combat HIV/AIDS.

We can, and we must embark upon a non-violent revolution. We cannot afford to be apathetic, for the sake of the women suffering at the hands of violence, persecution and injustice. For the sake of our daughters and grand daughters we cannot sit still or we will jeopardize their future.

I call on governments, academics, NGO’s, and people across the world to do what it takes to achieve gender equality.

I will be speaking tomorrow at 4.30pm at The Women of the World Festival, Southbank Centre, London

You can follow me on Twitter @BiancaJagger and join my foundation’s Facebook fan page at the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation.

Follow Bianca Jagger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BiancaJagger

Music of The Revolution: How Songs of Protest Have Rallied Demonstrators

jj March 9th, 2011

From: Movements.org

Look up the original site and get several of the movies.

Music almost always plays a pivotal role in protest movements, with songs and chants unifying dissidents in their rallying cries. Unlike movements of decades past, however, protest music made popular during the recent revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond spread virally with the help YouTube and Facebook.

TUNISIA

Twenty-one-year-old Hamada Ben Amor, known as El Général—an underground rapper living in the town of Sfax south of Tunis—uploaded a song he had written called “Rais Le Bled” (“President, Your Country”) to Facebook on November 7. The rap called out then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali for the problems faced by average Tunisians trying to make a living, including food scarcity, a lack of freedom of speech, and unemployment with lyrics like: “Mr. President, your people are dying/People are eating rubbish/Look at what is happening/Miseries everywhere Mr. President/I talk with no fear/Although I know I will only get troubles/I see injustice everywhere.”

The Voice of Tunisia

The rap was picked up by local TV station Tunivision and Al-Jazeera and resonated with many Tunisians who quickly began sharing the song. Soon enough, the government blocked the musician’s Facebook page and cut off his mobile phone. Despite the attempt to make his music disappear, El Général’s song quickly became the anthem of the Jasmine Revolution.

El Général then recorded another song of protest call “Tounes Bladna” (“Tunisia Our Country”) on December 22. By that point, Ali’s regime had had enough with the musician. El Général was arrested by state security on January 6, taken to the Ministry of Interior, and interrogated for three days.

He tells The Guardian, “They kept asking me which political party I worked for. ‘Don’t you know it’s forbidden to sing songs like that?’ they said. But I just answered, ‘Why? I’m only telling the truth.’ I was in there for three days, but it felt like three years.” The public was outraged and began demanding his release. The pressure mounted on the government worked and he was soon released from detention.

Since Ben Ali left office on January 14, El Général’s tunes have continued to serve as a rallying cry for other demonstrators in the Middle East, and his work has proven to be popular among demonstrators in Bahrain.

EGYPT

Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm (“Uncle Ahmed”), a popular voice for the poor who has spent 18 of his 81 years in Egyptian prisons, wrote “The Donkey and the Foal,” a commentary about then-president Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal. Musician Ramy Essam, who had taken to playing in Tahrir Square during the protest, set the poem to music and sang the song as Negm stood beside him.

Essam then penned the song “Leave,” inspired by the slogans and chants being shouted around Tahrir Square:

“We are all united as one,

And what we ask for,

Is just one thing: Leave! Leave! (x3)

Down, down Husni Mubarak! (x4)

The people demand: Bring down the regime! (x4)

He is going away. We are not going anywhere! (x4)

We are all united as one,

And what we ask for,

Is just one thing: Leave! Leave! Leave! (x4)”

The Truth Behind the Egyptian Revolution

Amir and Adel Eid from the Egyptian rock band Cairo-Kee gathered up other artists to record “Sout Al Horeya” (“The Voice of Freedom”), which quickly became another anthem for the revolution. The video for the song was shot entirely inside Tahrir Square during the revolution using a basic digital SLR camera.

“I went down to the streets vowing not to return, and wrote with my blood on every street.

Our voices reached those who could not hear them

And we broke through all barriers

Our weapon was our dreams

And tomorrow is looking as bright as it seems….”

Sout Al Horeya

LIBYA

Traditional songs have also played an important role in demonstrations. Libyans in the liberated eastern parts of the country forged bonds by singing the old national anthem while waving the tricolor flag from before Gaddafi came to power in 1969 as “a symbol of the reinvention of the Libyans.”

In this video, the massive crowd in Beghanzi sings the old anthem to share their pride in being liberated.

ARAB RAP DIASPORA

The Narcicyst, an Iraqi-born rapper living in Toronto, joined with other musicians from the Arabic rap diaspora in North America, such as Omar Offendum, Amir Sulaiman, and Canadian R&B singer Ayah, to record a track called “#Jan25 Egypt,” based off the popular hashtag used during the demonstrations in Egypt. In an Al Jazeera English interview, Omar said that it’s a “song of solidarity with the Egyptian people and [a way] to open it up [what’s happening in Egypt] to an audience in the United States.” The song starts:

“I heard ’em say

The revolution won’t be televised

Aljazeera proved ’em wrong

Twitter has him paralyzed

80 million strong

And ain’t no longer gonna be terrorized

Organized – Mobilized – Vocalized

On the side of TRUTH

Um il-Dunya’s living proof

That its a matter of time

before the chicken is home to roost”

Omar Offendum

LOOKING FOR MORE MUSIC?

Check out Mideast Tunes, a hub launched by Mideast Youth for the region’s underground and alternative music scenes. You can browse music by country or genre. The site has highlighted a number of other protest songs coming out of the region for its listeners (1, 2).

Abdulla Darrat, co-founder of the enoughgaddafi.com (Khalas) site run by a Libyan exiles (now found at http://feb17.info), put together a “mixtape” featuring hip-hop artists from the region. The mix, called “Mish B3eed,” or “Not Far,” features songs describing the conditions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. It can be downloaded here.

Durrat says, “[These musicians and emcees] very successfully put into words a lot of the sentiments that young people in the area are carrying with them, and they’re voicing really the struggle of…everyday people.”

Are any popular protest songs missing? Share them in the comments below!

How to Plan and Execute an Act of Electronic Civil Disobedience

jj January 24th, 2011

From Infoshop News

In the midst of hacktivists using ECDs (similar to distributed denial of service attacks) to defend Wikileaks, it’s worth having a document that describes how such attacks are planned and executed. Such a zine has recently been released that is written in laypersons terms so expertise in computing or networking is certainly not needed to understand it. If you have the ability to browse the web and edit a Microsoft Word document, you’ve probably got what it takes to understand the ideas it presents.

The zine goes through everything from anonymously scoping out your target to distributing your ECD tools and call-out. It includes a guide on doing research and making online postings anonymously, legal risks you may encounter and analysis of the effectiveness of ECDs as opposed to other large protest tactics. It reviews three popular tools (the Greek ECD Tool, the Low Orbit Ion Cannon, and Slow Loris) and provides step-by-step instructions for configuring and packaging them. It also includes a short section on the history of the use of ECDs by social movements.

Download the zine for printing and online reading at:
http://zinelibrary.info

Students recreate the civil rights movement in Second Life

jj January 20th, 2011

by Justin Olivetti

Americans celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past week to honor both the man and the civil rights movement that he supported. As part of that celebration, a team of doctoral students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania used Second Life to recreate key moments in the civil rights movement as a teaching tool.

Players who went through the simulation encountered critical junctures of the movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King Jr.’s beginnings at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Mississippi Freedom School Movement. By experiencing it first-hand in a virtual world, players hopefully gained a perspective on the issues surrounding segregation, integration, equality, voting rights and civil disobedience of the era that are in danger of slipping into distant history.

As they moved through the simulation, players were able to take quizzes, look at photos and videos, and make personal choices relating to the movement, such as whether to protest or sit in the back of the bus.

While it looks as though the simulation is no longer available in the game, you can watch the two-minute overview of the project after the jump.

The Clicktivists – a new breed of protesters

jj January 17th, 2011

By Ben Bryant London ES

As protests go, a lunchtime dance outside the Bank of England wouldn’t even register as an act of civil disobedience. And yet, for the dozens of people who attended last Friday’s Dance Against The Deficit to bump and grind to the bewilderment of City workers, it makes perfect sense.

Faces of protest: clockwise from top left, False Economy’s Clifford Singer, Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy, Milena Popova of Yes to Fairer Votes, Ellie Mae O’Hagan of UK Uncut, blogger Laurie Penny, Sean O’Halloran and Jessica Riches of UCL Occupation and David Babbs of 38 Degrees

Faces of protest: clockwise from top left, False Economy’s Clifford Singer, Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy, Milena Popova of Yes to Fairer Votes, Ellie Mae O’Hagan of UK Uncut, blogger Laurie Penny, Sean O’Halloran and Jessica Riches of UCL Occupation and David Babbs of 38 Degrees

It would be glib to describe this kind of playful protest as the new face of activism but the dance, which was organised by a group of bloggers and activists, posted on Facebook and publicised by interested people on Twitter, shows how campaigning has evolved. The way in which activists are exchanging ideas and mobilising has changed, thanks to social media, and it’s this, along with a surge in public dismay over Coalition cuts and broken promises, that is fuelling a resurgence in popular protest.

Activists haven’t always embraced the internet so readily. Critics of acts like signing up to an online petition or “liking” a cause on Facebook argue that they dissuade users from getting off their computers and on to the streets to protest.

This kind of flirtation with a cause even has a name — “clicktivism”, the sort of activism that’s perfectly suited to the process of skittering across the web from the Save Darfur Facebook page to a video of sneezing pandas on YouTube.

Organisations such as UK Uncut, however, are bucking this trend, successfully translating online campaigns into offline action. The latest clicktivists are smart, media-savvy, highly engaged with social media, accessible, usually only loosely organised, and well aware of the pitfalls of clicktivism. They use social media to enable a public sceptical of traditional party political routes to engage with the issues on their own terms.

UK Uncut
Who?
A loosely organised national network of anti-cuts activists who have risen to prominence for campaigns targeting Vodafone and Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins. The group has no official leader or hierarchy. Instead, says co-founder Chris Tobin, a 25-year-old drama teacher from Brent, its collaborative blog “allows people to co-ordinate their own actions”. Its 12 founders are students and professionals from their twenties to early forties, including teachers, a nurse and media professionals.

What do we want?
The group has focused all of its energies on corporate tax avoiders so far but is actually an anti-cuts movement, explains 23-year-old spokesperson Alex Wright, a charity worker from Tower Hamlets: “Our aim as a movement is to highlight that, actually, these are ideological cuts. It has nothing to do with necessity. Tax avoidance is just an issue of many, highlighting some of the ways where the Government could be reclaiming this money and not making the cuts.”
greatest success?

Pay Day, on December 18, saw nationwide protests that disrupted Arcadia Group and Vodafone businesses all over the UK. Demonstrators occupied Topshop, Bhs and other Arcadia businesses from Truro to Edinburgh, in some cases gluing themselves to the windows to prevent ejection. This action forced the closure of at least 13 stores.

Where’s the money from?
It requires very little funding, since UK Uncut uses tools that are freely available on the internet to unite its network of activists. “Twitter isn’t a gimmick in this,” says Tobin. “Twitter and Facebook allow for a realistic campaign that has a completely different structure to the sort of organisations that have defined protests.”

How many followers?
It has no formal membership and its supporters range in their degree of advocacy from sympathisers to demonstrators. This means its founders have no idea how many people are involved, although they have accumulated more than 13,000 followers on Twitter.

What’s the next move?
A nationwide day of mass action is planned for January 30, with smaller nationwide occupations and demonstrations taking place throughout this month.

38 Degrees
Who?
A Left-of-centre campaigning organisation with a team of three staff and a network of volunteers. It launched in May 2009 and is unique because its direction is driven almost entirely by its membership, who use social media and the internet to help decide on every aspect of running a campaign. “We have a staff team who are very focused on listening to what our members want, and exercising some judgment as well,” explains
29-year-old executive director David Babbs, who lives in Bethnal Green.

What do we want?
It has co-ordinated campaigns on a range of issues, from saving BBC 6 Music to protecting the NHS. At the moment their energies are focused on a newspaper campaign that portrays George Osborne as a pouting “Artful Dodger”, stating that he is not only skirting the issue of tax avoidance but dodging £1.6 million of tax himself.

Greatest success?
38 Degrees delivered a petition signed by 11,000 people to party leaders to call on them to urgently pass a Recall Law for MPs that would let voters oust them between elections. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has since indicated that this will become a reality.

Where’s the money from?
Half of 38 Degrees’ funding is raised from membership donations. The other half is provided by benefactors and trusts.

How many followers?
38 Degrees claims to have a membership of about 300,000, whose levels of advocacy vary. Its campaigns tend to be based around online activism that requires supporters to sign petitions or email their MP rather than take direct action.

“We make change happen through people power,” says Babbs. “So in terms of what the staff can do without members our options are genuinely limited.”

What’s the next move?
£20,000 has been raised by members to display a round of Artful Dodger adverts on bus stops and billboards around the UK. The organisation is also currently engaged in several other campaigns.

False Economy
Who?
Conceived by a group of activists, campaigners and trade unionists, False Economy isn’t a campaigning organisation in itself but rather a platform for people to find out about how Coalition cuts are affecting the populace and what they can do about it.

“We’re very interested in what people do offline,” says campaign director Clifford Singer, 42, who lives in Hackney, “but False Economy itself is an online hub. It’s a way for people to get information about what’s going on, about local cuts in their area and the arguments against the Government’s economics, and to spread that using social media.”

Its success at uniting online activists has been assisted by the involvement of Liberal Conspiracy blogger and prolific tweeter Sunny Hundal, who has proven adept at connecting activists online and offline through events such as this month’s grassroots conference Netroots.

What do we want?
The site has three aims: to map the cuts and their effect on people, to provide a resource for campaigns and protesters from different organisations and to make a case against the Government’s view of how it would reduce the deficit.

Greatest success?
It is not due to launch until the first week of February and is still in the process of establishing the site.

Where’s the money from?
False Economy was set up with financial support from the TUC, Unison, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Fire Brigades Union, and has a staff of two working part-time. “We have very limited funds at the moment,” says Singer, who is a part-time web developer, and hopes to maintain the site through donations.

How many followers?
It’s currently reported to attract about 2,000 unique users a day.

What’s the next move?
The group’s energies are focused on their launch in the first week of February. It has also used Freedom of Information requests to conduct research into the impact of public sector cuts, which it plans to release at the same time.

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts
Who?
A network of student and education worker activists not affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS), the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) was founded at a conference of more than 150 campaigners at University College London in February last year. It was originally conceived in response to the NUS’s failure to represent students who wanted to campaign for free education, and organises protests and occupations opposing tuition fees and cuts in education funding.

Founder Michael Chessum, a 21-year-old student officer at University College London, explains: “We thought there were lots of little local campaigns which weren’t being catered for or supported by their students’ union or the NUS. We wanted to give them a national face and a national direction.”

What do we want?
The NCAFC ultimately wants to secure free education for students, and this is where its views differ from the NUS. Considered more radical than the NUS, the group has a record of supporting forms of (non-violent) direct action, such as university occupations, that the NUS is less willing to undertake.

Greatest success?
A march the NCAFC organised on December 9 last year saw tens of thousands of students descend on London to protest, causing disruption that included the painting of a giant “NO” on the grass in Parliament Square.

Where’s the money from?
By donation through its website.

How many followers?

The campaign against a rise in tuition fees was believed to have the support of hundreds of thousands across the UK, most of them students. Marches have seen tens of thousands of students take to the streets. “What’s important about the campaign is it’s still overwhelmingly a physical thing,” says Chessum, who lives in Haringey.

What’s the next move?
A mass demonstration is planned for January 29, where protesters will take to the streets of London and Manchester.

Bloody Sunday came to Belarus

jj December 26th, 2010

From Nash Dom Civic Campaign

Nash Dom Civic Campaign members give their accounts
of what happened and is happening in the country now.
Women are among the most affected.

Russia in 1905.
India in 1930.
Hungary in 1956.
South Africa in 1960 and 1986.
Chechslovakia in 1968.
Poland in 1956 and 1970.
American South in 1960.
Northern Ireland in 1972.
Chile in 1973.
Palestine in 1988.
China in 1989.
Romania in 1989.
Lithuania in 1991.
Kosovo in 1998.

This sad list is incomplete, of course. What is sadder, it does not stop. December 19, 2010, added another line here. Bloody Sunday came to Belarus. The ruling regime threw away a mask they were putting on the last year, and had no qualms about a bloodbath. A peaceful manifestation of about 50,000 people was violently dispersed, more than 600 people are jailed. Hundreds of the people were injured, some of them may be dead. Nearly all alternative presidential candidates were beaten, some of them severely, and one of them is rumored to be dead.

Why was the manifestation? The citizens where determined to show their peaceful protest against stealing of another election campaign. All the demonstrators wanted was an explanation why the election process became so non-transparent and at the same time so tightly controlled by the ruling group. Instead of a legitimate and logical explanation, they were beaten by clubs, brass knuckles, and heavy police boots.

Several members of the Nash Dom Civic Campaign were among the 50,000 who headed to the House of Government where the official Central Election Commission must be located. The people had a lot of questions to the chair of the Commission and the Prosecutor General. It was already late evening, but those officials had to be at their places during the final day of the election. Besides, that was probably the only possible way to hold those officials accountable, because any other peaceful ways tried by citizens and their leaders were efficiently blocked by the laws and decrees signed in no time by just one person, or simply by plain ignoring.

The citizens had a lot of grounds to late claims. All the local election commissions are headed by people completely dependent on the ruling group, and nothing can efficiently prevent forging the election results. Since about the year of 1998 the votes are counted almost privately by a limited number of people who know only too well that for the ‘necessary’ result they will get a small award, otherwise they will be severely punished. With the current election legislation in Belarus there is no way to learn the real preferences of the citizens. But even more, during this election campaign there were numerous violations of the current legislation and suspicious actions. Many members of the Nash Dom Civic Campaign know it firsthand because they were observers at some election precincts.

Many Belarusian citizens and democratic activists, including Nash Dom members, joined efforts in a nonviolent action which revealed the true situation in Belarus. Until recently, the ruling regime just snarled and hissed at people, they could not hold a dialogue themselves and they were doing their best to silence people. Now the regime enforcers are still breaking into houses and apartments, take people out in plain night, beat them and jail them.
Most of the presidential candidates are jailed, in spite of the fact that they are inviolable until December 29, the day of final vote count. One of the candidates and many demonstrators are plain missing, just like many political opponents of the current regime got missing in 1997-2001. We all hope that the situation is not the same as it was in Chile and Argentine in the 70s and 80s, but the similarities are too appalling.

Unfortunately, this was also experienced only too well by one of the Nash Dom members, Kristina Shatikova, a mother of two. When she and her friends were rounded up, enforcers beat them skillfully, taking into account that the victims were female. The enforcers were trying to hit abdomens and lower part of the body. When the young women were arrested, they had to stand this whole freezing night in police vans, without a possibility to use toilet. Even more, the enforcers took away hats, caps, scarves, and gloves. Many women were threatened to be drowned in toilet bowls. Because of the torturing conditions, many women lost consciousness. It all looked like a planned action to deprive the women of the right of being mothers again.

When after the freezing night Kristina Shatikova was taken to the Oktiabrski Police Department in Minsk, beatings continued. The enforcer Vitali Pozniak behaved as a real bandit. He was kicking Kristina in the corridor, strangled her in his room. He had no insignia on him, but apparently he was not rank-and-file. The tortures varied, and one of them were night interrogations. Even by the current legislation this is a violation. Besides, when Kristina signed the protocol and put a dash in the witnesses section, the protocol was taken away. It is very likely that the police will forge the protocol and write it again the way they like. In such cases the witnesses are usually the enforcers themselves. The signature of the interrogated is not a problem at all, the standard words ‘the interrogated refused to sign the protocol’ is more than welcome in the judicial system of Belarus.

This illegal legal system hurts not only their opponents. Any citizen can become a victim. When Kristina was released, she told us about a young woman who was apprehended just because she happened to be near. She was desperate because her baby was left alone at home, and begged to let her go. This amused the enforcers even more, and the softest name they gave her was ‘a dirty cow’. They spared her beating, but it would be a miracle if the woman is still able to breast-feed the baby after the physical and emotional stress.

The violations of the most basic human rights and international norm are going on right now, in this very moment. Enforcers break into offices of all noticeable social organizations and into private apartments of their activists throughout the country, and loot them calling this ‘a legal search’. They confiscate belongings and are especially greedy to get hold of computers. They cut telephone and Internet communication, hoping to isolate people and devour them one by one. The alternative candidates, their friends, simply people they know: anyone who might have their own opinion about the last show the authorities call ‘elections’ is an enemy to be oppressed, deprived of property and private life, injured, jailed, and even killed.

The regime targets families. Private apartments are raided violently, sometimes late at night, and children witness the searches. A three-year old boy of one of the alternative candidates was threatened to be put into a facility (both his parents are jailed after December 19), and only active position of the grandmother saved him some of childhood.
Now we see that the current authorities in Belarus do not care for the lives of Belarusians. They do not even consider that Belarusians are humans, depriving them of normal representatives and judicial system.

In many countries listed at the beginning the Bloody Sundays led to revolutions, and revolutions always cost lives. The war against Belarusians and Belarusian women in particular is already going on, and it costs lives of many babies who will not be born, many lives of women who are crippled spiritually and physically.
* * *
Recently Argentina jailed their former dictator Jorge Videla for life, though it took over 30 years to get hold of him. It may take Belarusians longer, but we keep our records, and the Nash Dom Civic Campaign makes their contribution.

Study: DDoS Often Used as Tool for Protests, Civil Disobedience

jj December 24th, 2010

From The New New Internet

Security evangelist Sean-Paul Correll called the phenomenon “the future of cyber protests,” and a new report seems to substantiate his prediction of distributed denial of service attacks becoming a method frequently used by protesters and civil disobedients.

Image: Operation Payback

Image: Operation Payback

Historically associated with extortion, DDoS has morphed into an instrument used for various nonfinancial reasons, including political ones, researchers at Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard noted in their report.

Attacks that recruit participants in so-called volunteer DDoS have become increasingly popular, with the most recent example involving Anonymous, a self-described Internet gathering, who used the method to attack websites of WikiLeaks opponents.

However, although Operation Payback succeeded in calling attention to activists’ political goals, it was “largely ineffective in disturbing the business operations of targeted firms,” the researchers said.

“It is worth noting that the Operation Payback attacks disabled promotional websites associated with the financial firms targeted, not their mission-critical payment processing systems, because those promotional sites are much less well-protected than the firms’ core operational systems,” the researchers wrote.

The report also highlighted a trend in cyber attacks against human-rights groups whose opponents take to the web to disrupt and disturb campaigners’ operations. Between August 2009 and September 2010, the researchers found evidence of 140 attacks against more than 280 different sites belonging to human-rights groups.

“These attacks do seem to be increasingly common,” Ethan Zuckerman, one of the authors of the report, told BBC News.

While some attacks were triggered by specific incidents such as elections, others had no obvious cause, he said.

The report found repeated attacks between countries beyond the most commonly cited examples of
Israel/Palestine, Russia/Georgia, and Russia/Estonia. Such examples include China/USA, Armenia/Azerbaijan, Malaysia/Indonesia, and Algeria/Egypt. There were also many reports of attacks between Muslim and European or U.S. actors, the researchers noted.

How safe are activists in India?

jj December 22nd, 2010

From OneWorld South Asia

The murder of environmentalist Amit Jethwa for campaigning against forest encroachment exposes the urgent need for legal redressal to protect the voices of whistle blowers in India, who are risking their lives for the cause of social equity and justice.

On 20 July 2010, forest campaigner Amit Jethva was shot dead at point blank range by two assailants on motorbikes as he was leaving Gujrat High Court following a meeting with his lawyer.

Environmental activist Amit Jethva was murdered after campaigning against illegal mining in a national park

Environmental activist Amit Jethva was murdered after campaigning against illegal mining in a national park

In a country facing an acute environmental crisis as it rapidly industrialises, his assassination was no stray incident but one of a rising number of attacks on activists. The headline-grabbing decision to ban the British mining company Vedanta from opening a bauxite mine on tribal land in eastern India was only achieved after an unprecedented amount of national and international media attention.

Elsewhere decisions have not been so favourable. Recently approved plans for a new airport in Mumbai will destroy 170 hectares of critically important mangroves. Conservation groups say alternative sites were not properly considered and that their objections were given little consideration. But being ignored is perhaps better than the fate many environmental activists face in India today.

In January 2010, Satish Shetty, a whistle blower and anti-corruption campaigner, who brought to light land scams in West Indian state Maharashtra, was murdered, while Shanmughan Manjunath suffered the same fate after exposing petrol pumps that sold adulterated fuel. Activists say that in contrast to the image India portrays – of a nation that prioritises environmental issues – the reality is in fact very bleak.

‘Activists in India are constantly at risk. Stories of activists being killed are a moral setback to all of us. Ruffle the wrong person’s feathers and it could be you next,’ says Stalin D, project director at the environmental NGO Vanashakti. Ravi Rebbapragada, executive director of Samata, a tribal rights and environmental NGO, believes that as India continues its rapid industrialisation, things are likely to get worse, ‘as the stakes go higher the risk to the activist goes higher,’ he says.

Anti-mining activist killed

At the time of his death Amit was campaigning to protect against forest encroachment. He was heavily involved in the Gir National park, the only home of the Asiatic lion and a protected forest area in western India that covers more than 1,400 km sq. His efforts to expose illegal mining in the forest were rewarded last week with a special posthumous award. Before his death he had filed a lawsuit (Public Interest Litigation) against illegal limestone mining in the buffer zone around the National Park. His application had named a local MP Dinu Solanki from India’s Hindu Nationalist Party and the case was said to, ‘openly expose his link with illegal mining operations’.

Amit was well-known for standing up for environmental issues and had even taken on Bollywood actor Salmon Khan for shooting an endangered Blackbuck. As such he had many enemies in the government, according to his friend and environmental lawyer Manish Vaidya. His family and friends say he had been under threat ever since he started investigating illegal mining operations in and around Gir National Park.

‘A couple of years back, Dinu Solanki’s men physically assaulted Amit at a family wedding,’ recalls Alpa Amit Jethva, his widow, who says Amit had complained to the police after one incident but nothing happened. Dinu Solanki was unavailable for comment but a police investigation since Amit’s death found that he had ‘no role to play’. The police confirmed to the Ecologist that his nephew Shiva Solanki has been charged with conspiracy to assassinate Jethva and a second man with his murder.

Lack of support from police

Activists in India say support is often lacking from the police when they try and initiate proceedings against their attackers. In March 2010, while exposing illegal sand mining in the state of Maharastra, Sumaira Abdulali, a trustee of the Awaaz Foundation, an environmental NGO, was followed, threatened and physically attacked by mafia linked to sand dredging in the area. Sumaira and her team went out on a boat to photograph illegal sand mining in an ecologically sensitive creek, where they saw over fifty dredgers within a span of one kilometre. After they took the photographs and left, they were followed by thugs.

Uproar in Egypt over ElBaradei Death Fatwa

jj December 21st, 2010

From asharq alawsat By Waleed Abdul Rahman

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – A fatwa issued in Egypt calling for the death of Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, former Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and Egyptian political opposition figure, has stirred religious and political controversy across Egypt. Al-Azhar scholars have described this Fatwa as being “reckless” whilst supporters of ElBaredei – who is considering standing for the Egyptian presidential elections next year – have condemned this fatwa which was issued by Sheikh Mahmoud Amer, head of the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association in Damanhur governorate. This fatwa justified the murder of Dr. ElBaradei for “stirring civil disobedience against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, inciting riots and calling for full-scale civil disobedience.”

In a fatwa posted on the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya website, Sheikh Amer began by stating that “we, in Egypt, are a people that for the most part follow the religion of Islam and anybody reading ElBaradei’s statements can see that these call for civil disobedience and incite civil unrest against our Muslim ruler [President Hosni Mubarak].” The fatwa goes on to say that “regardless of the status of Egypt’s ruler in the eyes of some people, he is the ruler and so should be listened to and obeyed…therefore ElBaradei and others are not entitled to make such statements [calling for civil disobedience].” Sheikh Mahmoud Amer’s fatwa uses some of the prophet’s hadith as well as some of the teachings of Salafist clerics as a reference, with the fatwa calling on ElBaradei to “declare his repentance for what he has said…otherwise the ruler is permitted to imprison or kill him in order to prevent sedition.”

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the man responsible for the above fatwa, leader of the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association in Damanhur governorate, Sheikh Mahmoud Amer, who said that “what was published on the group’s website represents the Shariaa ruling of the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association in Damanhur governorate members on ElBaradei’s position.”

In response to a question as to whether other branches of the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya group in Egypt support his fatwa, he confirmed that “no branch of the association is entitled to be the guardian of another, only the Egyptian government is permitted to do so. The Damanhur branch enjoys complete independence, and the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association headquarters in Cairo has no authority over this branch or any other branch of the organization, as stipulated by our rules and regulations.”

For his part, Dr. Abdul Mouti Bayoumi of the Islamic Research Academy of Al-Azhar University told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this fatwa is completely wrong, and fatwas that call for death should not be issued freely as this leads to killings.” Dr. Bayoumi, who is also the former Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Al-Azhar University added that “it is not usual for the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya to issue fatwas, so what has happened to make them change their position? Is it logical that when they do start issuing fatwas, this should be a fatwa calling for killing?

Dr. Bayoumi said that provoking the murder of Dr. ElBaredei would incite violence in Egyptian society, which is something that contradicts the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, something that the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya claim to be upholding. Dr. Bayoumi added that the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya fatwa is based upon a misunderstanding of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings.

Whilst Dr. Mohamed Rafat Othman, Professor of Comparative Jurisprudence at Al Azhar University, said that “this fatwa is reckless and not supported by any evidence as ElBaradei has not called on the Egyptian people to revolt against the ruling regime, but rather has called for a change in Egypt’s policies.”

Othman said that “[calling for] the shedding of blood is not so easy in Islam, anything that a man does in life is permissible unless expressly forbidden by Islamic Shariaa law.” He also said that most Muslim scholars agree that [calling for] bloodshed is forbidden in Islam.

He added “for people to ambush somebody and kill them is a terrible sin…differences in opinion should be settled by means of dialogue and fair-speaking, for as God Almighty said [in the Quran] “speak fair to the people” [Surat al-Baqara; Verse 83].

As for the political controversy stirred by this fatwa, ElBaradei’s National Coalition for Change said that it considered this fatwa to be extremely dangerous. A leading member of this organization, Ahmed Bahaa Shaaban, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this fatwa is an indication that Egyptian, Arab, and Islamic society is on the verge of further deterioration, with the tolerant religion of Islam being used to intimidate figures and threaten their lives, rather than providing security, stability, and respect.”

Shaaban added that “this fatwa only serves the forces of corruption in Egypt, and intimidates any citizen who is calling for change.” Shaaban added that even during the era when governing regime’s clerics would issue fatwas in the interests of the government, such fatwas never went so far as to call for the death of the government’s political opponents.

Shaaban told Asharq Al-Awsat that “it is our duty now to take a strong stance to confront this new trend of darkness which backs the regime of corruption and uses religion to achieve worldly objectives.” He also warned Egyptian citizens of adhering to this fatwa and making an attempt on the life of Dr. ElBaradei, as this is something that happened previously when Egyptian writer and Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz was attacked after a fatwa was issued against one of his novels.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights [EOHR] has called on Egypt’s general prosecutor to investigate the fatwa that justifies the killing of Dr. ElBaradei issued by the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association.

The EOHR also called on Egypt’s general prosecutor to “strictly apply the law to those who issue religious edicts permitting the killing of people, which spreads fear among the citizens.” Whilst the head of EOHR described this fatwa as being “harmful to Islam.”

Civil Disobedience Has No Name and No Face in the Post-WikiLeaks World

jj December 20th, 2010

By Rebecca Wexler in JakartaGlobe

Thousands of protesters around the world joined a virtual Internet gathering under the banner “Operation Payback,” many volunteering their computers as foot soldiers in distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks that flooded the Web sites of MasterCard and Visa, temporarily incapacitating them.

Thousands of protesters around the world joined a virtual Internet gathering under the banner “Operation Payback,” many volunteering their computers as foot soldiers in distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks that flooded the Web sites of MasterCard and Visa, temporarily incapacitating them.

The furor over the purloined cables released by WikiLeaks has now produced the first global Internet civil-disobedience movement. The online picketing of business Web sites like MasterCard and Visa has not only shown the power of online volunteers, but also the contradictions in Western democracies that preach press freedom abroad while shrinking it close to their own bones. Online discussions and interviews with hacktivists also reveal their own contradictions as they grope for what to do with their newfound power.

The Dec. 7 arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on allegations of sexual assault unleashed a cascade of attacks surrounding the secret-sharing site.

Computer assailants attacked WikiLeaks servers, while Joseph Lieberman, chair of the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security, pushed corporations to withdraw services from the organization.

When Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard and Visa complied, incensed pro-WikiLeaks hacktivists joined the fray with a call to “Avenge Assange,” suggesting his arrest was politically motivated, and protest Internet censorship.

Thousands of protesters around the world joined a virtual Internet gathering under the banner “Operation Payback,” many volunteering their computers as foot soldiers in distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks that flooded the Web sites of MasterCard and Visa, temporarily incapacitating them.

Facebook and Twitter retaliated by closing Operation Payback user accounts, but not before hacktivists spread their cause across the Web.

The Low Orbit Ion Cannon, software that enables people to lend their computers for these attacks, has reportedly been downloaded more than 53,000 times, leaving corporations and governments scrambling to prepare in case their Web sites become targets.

The pro-WikiLeaks protesters gathered under the umbrella name Anonymous, which Tunisian cyber-activist Slim Amamou calls “a new spirituality.” It’s an organized, yet leaderless, disorganization, a flash mob that fits the Web’s decentralized nature. Someon e posts an idea online, people decide if it’s “great,” “bad,” or “horrible” and respond. Amamou calls the system, “reverse control” or “the brush principle — where whoever takes a brush and starts painting picks the color of the paint.”

Operation Payback considered targeting company infrastructure, but instead chose corporate Web sites to attack the public images of companies without jeopardizing services to consumers.

Another distinction is the use of mass volunteerism rather than the criminal seizure of involuntary “zombie” computers, or botnets, without the permission or knowledge of their owners.

A self-identified Operation Payback organizer in Singapore said: “Many people may not see our actions as anything similar to Gandhi. But I believe it is somewhat related. We are both using civil disobedience” to convey a message to the government.

Several activists claimed Operation Payback protests highlight the duplicity of Western corporations that terminated services on political and not legal grounds.

The firms argue that by publishing leaked US diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks violated the companies’ terms of service prohibiting illegal behavior.

However, WikiLeaks has not been charged with a crime.

The only person facing charges related to the cables is US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.

But his alleged theft of documents is distinct from the right of a free press to publish.

In the absence of any legal action, the arbitrary targeting of WikiLeaks, activists say, amounts to corporations serving as judge, jury and executioner on behalf of government interests.

But Anonymous is not simply demanding that government enforce existing laws.

Nor is theirs purely an act of civil disobedience designed, like Gandhi’s movement to gain independence for India, to highlight and overturn the immorality of existing laws.

Rather, many Anonymous participants shift the argument about censorship to target all corporate and state regulations, contradicting both law and the principles of civil disobedience, which do not oppose all law.

In doing so, they’ve left t hemselves open to the same criticism they lodge against the corporations they attack — that they do not respect due process. The movement raises a host of questions over speech in cyberspace.

As Anonymous gains influence, it must confront its unrepresentative techno-elite status.

Participants claim a transnational Internet identity, but this ideal is contradicted by its unequal global application.

The mobilization of unprecedented participation in Operation Payback throws into relief unequal treatment meted out to different countries.

One does not hear much about cyber-activism against vast and constant Internet censorship in China, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia or Singapore.

The organizer in Singapore explained, “The people that are participating in this, they want to free their Internet first before the Internets of others.” This commitment to regional allegiance mitigates the ideal of cyber-vigilante Internet action without borders.

Anonymous members acknowledge that they must toe a delicate line in the degree of righteousness they invoke or risk losing support from the segments of their Internet community comprised of pranksters motivated primarily by the “lulz,” Internet slang for laughs or entertainment at the expense of others.

While volunteers in this kind of crowd -sourced activism change constantly, past successes suggest a significant dose of lulz helps participation reach a tipping point.

Operation Leakspin, a recent offshoot from Operation Payback, hopes to lure participants from the DDoS attacks to citizen-journalism analysis of the leaked cables with the call-to-action, “We, Anonymous, the people, will take this work on our shoulders.”

This project, urging activists to expose and summarize cable details in online forums and newspaper comments, is reminiscent of WikiLeaks’s initial unsuccessful attempt to harness the public for document analysis, an effort it later abandoned to partner with traditional news organizations.

Operation Leakspin will be tested on its ability to hold the Internet crowd’s attention.

Hacktivists and the new software tools they use have ushered in an era of increasing awareness of the enormous power of the Web and its risks.

Beyond the immediate issue of computer security, governments and businesses would do wel l to note that it is young, bright, computer-savvy activists ­ — the world’s future leaders — who question the way business is done.

More than embarrassing a few government officials, the WikiLeaks saga raises profound questions about democracy, transparency and popular participation that need to be answered carefully for the sake of a stable and peaceful world.

Rebecca Wexler is a visiting fellow at the Yale University Law School Information Society Project. Copyright YaleGlobal, 2010 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

Danish police ordered to compensate climate protesters

jj December 19th, 2010

In an unprecedented ruling, a Danish judge has told police to pay activists tens of thousands of pounds.

Bibi van der Zee, Guardian.co.UK

Police forces push back activists during a protest in Copenhagen on 16 December 2009 on the 10th day of the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Police forces push back activists during a protest in Copenhagen on 16 December 2009 on the 10th day of the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Danish police have been ordered to pay tens of thousands of pounds compensation to hundreds of climate protesters, after a court ruling today. The unprecedented ruling coincides with the release of an audio recording from the policing of a protest outside the UN climate talks in Copenhagen last December, which allegedly shows Danish police ordering officers to beat activists and journalists.

A year to the day after the Reclaim Power protest outside the Bella Centre, where the talks were being held, a Danish judge called “illegal” the actions of police – who pre-emptively arrested nearly 2,000 people during the summit – and ordered them to pay £500-£1,000 to 200 protesters. They may have to compensate a further 800 , meaingthe final bill for the police could potentially run to £1m.

Reclaim Power

Reclaim Power

The lawyer Christian Dahlager, part of the team who brought 200 of the complaints to court, said: “The other people who formally complained may well have cases for compensation.”

This is the biggest verdict of its kind ever in Denmark, he believes. “In the past we have had cases like this of just a couple of people and the police are only ordered to pay a couple of hundred pounds. But this is a turning point for Denmark. We’ve been travelling down a certain road for a long time and now finally the courts have stepped in and said that the police have gone too far.”

The verdict has coincided with the release of a film through the national Danish broadcaster which contains a police radio transmission that appears to include orders to hit protestors and media. According to a translation posted on activist website Climate Collective, the officer speaking tells his men “I want to see that stick in use,” and adds: “There are media between the cars. They will get the same fucking treatment. Now’s the time to fight.”

The verdict and the film have electrified Denmark. The minister of jjustice, Lars Barfoed has issued a statement promising to look into the issue, and has been questioned about it by the political opposition, with Line Bafod of the Red-Greens saying: “It is completely unacceptable for a senior police officer to urge violence against journalists on the job. This does not belong in a democratic society.”

The president of the Danish Union of Journalists, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, said it is “appalling that an incident commander can give such orders. It becomes very dangerous for journalists to do their job.”

“It feels as if we’re finally beginning to get to the truth of what happened last year,” said Helen Medden, one of the two film-makers of a documentary called Climate Crime. “I started to make the film as a positive one about young Danish people campaigning about the climate, but halfway through it turned into something completely different, and became a film about police behaviour.”

The Guardian has been unable to reach the Danish police for comment on the trial, but the Copenhagen police director, Johan Reimann, said: “When the media chooses to mingle with demonstrators, we are not able to differentiate precisely … But when the media identifies itself with a press card, we of course respect that.” Asked if he thought the language used by his officer was too “bombastic”, he replied: “When you are out there on the edge, the language used is different than when you are just standing there and having a chat.”

The police are appealing against the ruling.

How Hackers Are Rewriting the Rules of Civil Disobedience

jj December 18th, 2010

On the same day Yahoo laid off 600 of its employees, Yahoo’s image search function leaned a bit toward the risqué. And by that I mean an onslaught of X-rated imagery.

For a few brief hours, any and all Yahoo image searches—no matter the apple-cheeked innocence motivating said search—turned up a snapshot of a man and a woman, um, “knowing” each other.

Fuzzy kittens? Fornication.

Justin Bieber? The ol’ in-out-in-out.

Images of the $100 bill to print out at work and attempt to pass off to Juan at the lobby cigarette counter because you already demolished your paycheck on what you said was holiday shopping but was really just you, take-out Chinese, rotgut wine, and the sadness of a solitary life? Sweaty intercourse.

Over the span of time this money-shot image was live, it was viewed by nearly 200,000 individuals, according to TechCrunch’s estimate. That’s a whole lot of aftershock repentance.

Is There a Point in Rewriting Civil Disobedience?

Clearly, this wasn’t a glitch. This was an act of what we’re now calling “cyber terrorism,” the same breed of civil disobedience that spurned Operation Payback hackers to dismantle the websites of the Swiss bank Switzerland Post Finance, MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal to avenge Julian Assange and the shutdown of Wikileaks. Operation Payback has told the press that more attacks will be coming as long as companies continue to censor Wikileaks.

Unless you’re gung-ho about blindly “sticking it to the man” by tearing massive corporate websites to shreds, or, in the case of Yahoo, inundating innocent Web crawlers with porno, you’re probably questioning the point of these attacks.

The Yahoo Porno Hiccup is barely defensible, if at all. We’re talking about porno, plain and simple, and Lord knows how many 6-year-olds seeking pictures of their favorite cartoons were introduced—rudely and without parental context—to the birds and the bees.

However, a backlash such as the one wrought on Yahoo’s servers is an expression of disappointment and loathing, and also an illustration of the power individual employees in major tech firms have over the systems they were once paid to control.

I do not condone the Yahoo Porno Hiccup. I do, however, recognize it as a modern—and human—reaction to betrayal, one that’s superior to the immaturity of trashing a boss’s office or, worse yet, bringing an AK-47 into work on your last day on payroll.

Point or Not, Here’s How the Rewrite Starts

In terms of Operation Payback—so what if MasterCard was shut down? The site was rebooted within hours, impervious to the hackers’ digital protest. Without a lasting impact—or even a coherent doctrine explaining and justifying the attacks—it comes across as a bunch of whiny computer geeks behaving like jerks.

Historically speaking, social movements that begin with protests, violent or otherwise, have been propagated by the ripple effect: it starts in the streets, slinks into the living room via TV news, and sometimes knocks on the government’s door to rewrite the law. The architecture of these hack attacks have yet to suggest that such an enduring goal or strategy exists.

That decree is fair enough, but what I see here are the rumblings of a groundswell that could impact the Internet’s overall safety construction. Yes, these credit card websites only 404-ed for a spell, and MasterCard has evidently hired programmers savvy enough to bounce back with strengthened site security, but hand in hand with the raising of higher walls comes a clever-by-necessity boost in hackers’ intelligence, speed, and subtlety.

As much as I’m cautious of condoning what is, in essence, a tentacle of terrorism, I’m curious as to what Operation Payback’s next steps will be. Perhaps the next server failure will occur in the bowels of the Pentagon, or maybe a hacker’s sniper bullet will paint an entire business’s brains on the wall, irreparably.

One thing is for certain: our generation should no longer be labeled as upper-middle-class do-nothings too obsessed by consuming mass media to function as members of traditional society. Even in this disconnected world of tweets, TXT, and LOL-speak, there still exists a disobedient bent that will not be ignored.

Christian activists force Smithsonian to pull Aids video from show

jj December 3rd, 2010

From Guardian

Catholic League denounced Washington gallery because of sequence showing Jesus on cross being eaten by ants

A still from the four-minute video, created by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, that the National Portrait Gallery in Washington has removed from the show Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Photograph: Guardian

A still from the four-minute video, created by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, that the National Portrait Gallery in Washington has removed from the show Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Photograph: Guardian

Christian activists have notched up an important victory in their attempt to cleanse the art world of what they see as offensive use of religious images by forcing the National Portrait Gallery in Washington to remove a video about Aids from an exhibition on sexuality in portraiture.

The Catholic League, one of the most aggressive interventionist groups within the religious right, expressed its relief after the decision was announced last night to pull A Fire in My Belly, a four-minute video that forms part of the gallery’s newly opened show, Hide/Seek. The league had objected to a sequence of 11 seconds within the video that depicts Jesus on the cross being eaten by large black ants.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, had denounced the work as “hate speech” and called on members of the US Congress to pull federal funding from the gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institute, in protest at its “offensive” curatorial stance. In fact, the exhibition, which has been hailed as the first attempt by a major museum in America to tackle the topic of same-sex love in art, was largely funded by private donors and foundations.

The National Portrait Gallery initially stood up against the Catholic League’s complaints, insisting that it had no desire to cause offence and pointing out that the 1987 artwork in question had been created as a commentary on society’s response to the Aids crisis. The artist behind the work, David Wojnarowicz, was part of the Lower East Side art scene in the 1980s and made the video to mark the death from Aids of his lover Peter Hujar. Wojnarowicz himself died of Aids complications five years later, aged 37.

But within hours of the league launching its attack through emails and media interviews, the gallery had bowed to the pressure and withdrawn the video. In a statement, the gallery’s director, Martin Sullivan, gave an apparently contradictory explanation for the decision, repeating his defence of the video in the face of misleading media coverage but announcing its removal.

“I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious. In fact, the artist’s intention was to depict the suffering of an Aids victim. It was not the museum’s intention to offend. We are removing the video today,” he said.

The nature of the attack on the Smithsonian was particularly worrying for those concerned about censorship in the arts because at its heart was the threat of funding cuts against the institution. The Catholic League prompted John Boehner, the new leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, to threaten retribution through the national purse.

“Smithsonian officials should … be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves to end the job-killing spending spree in Washington,” Boehner’s spokesman told the Catholic news website CNSNews.

The threat of funding cuts is not an idle one. In the 1990s the National Endowment for the Arts lost almost half its government funding after it upset Congress members by showing the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, a picture of a crucifix dipped into his own urine.

Hide/Seek carries a warning to the public at its entrance that “This exhibition contains mature themes”. It contains 105 artworks from such prominent names as Thomas Eakins, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and his lover Robert Rauschenberg and the photographer Annie Leibovitz.

The art critic of the Washington Post, Blake Gopnik, lauded the show as “one of the best thematic exhibitions in years“. Following the decision to pull the video, Gopnik changed his tone, warning the gallery and the Smithsonian that it now looked “set to come off as cowards“.

“FUCK FSB”

jj November 27th, 2010

The Russian activist group Voina is famous for provoking the authorities with humorist actions and satire. They are regularly harassed by the secret police FSB (former KGB). In St Petersbourg they did a unique action by “showing the finger” to the FSB headquarter. And this was not just a small sign with their hands. They painted a dick at the bridge just opposite the police headquarter.

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina, activist Koza at action practice

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina, activist Koza at action practice

And when the bridge was elevated to let a ship pass the dick was erected.

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina, it rises

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina, it rises

It continues to rise

It continues to rise

And lovers can’t resist the photo op

And lovers can’t resist the photo op

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina can be seen across St Petersburg

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina can be seen across St Petersburg

Read the full text here.

Is the Tea Party a Non-Violent Movement?

jj November 24th, 2010

Opinion by Dustin Howes

The just past elections showed that the most important instances of nonviolent activism in the last year here in the United States have been the organizing efforts of the various groups that together call themselves the Tea Party. Through rallies, speeches, voter turnout efforts, and the mobilization of various media outlets, the organizers of the movement changed the majority party in the House of Representatives in dramatic fashion, dealing a serious blow to President Obama’s remaining agenda and likely stifling any hope of passing immigration reform or a green energy bill in the next two years. Like all nonviolent movements, the Tea Partiers exercised power by organizing people, gathering in public spaces, talking and debating about how we ought to live together and then took action that changed the character of the world.

On the left and among most of those who study or advocate for nonviolence, the Tea Party is not understood to be a “real” nonviolent movement. First, the Tea Party is in part a creation of Fox News and the so-called grassroots organizations that have done much of the organizing are in fact Astroturf organizations funded by corporations, wealthy individuals or Republican Party operatives. Second, much of what seems to be motivating Tea Party activists, both from a policy standpoint and as indicated by the character of their rhetoric, seems inconsistent with social justice and, in some cases, promotes violence. Some Tea Party activists are pro-gun, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-union, anti-Muslim and/or racist. Indeed, more broadly, we might say that the likely effects of the Tea Party movement is a further acceleration of a decades long trend toward redistributing wealth away from poor and working class people and toward the wealthy. First up on the agenda in this regard is their desire to extend the Bush tax cuts in their entirety. If we understand economic oppression as a form of violence, then clearly the goals of the Tea Party movement are not so non-violent after all.

However, discounting the Tea Party out of hand amounts to a missed opportunity and short-sighted understanding of how power and nonviolence works. If you listen closely to the rhetoric of Tea Party activists, elements – and I stress elements – of what they say resonates in important ways with core principles of nonviolence. They emphasize self-sufficiency, local control over resources, and skepticism about centralized government. They rail against bailouts for Wall Street, large corporations and corruption. Some Tea Party activists have a libertarian streak that leads them to be skeptical of the United States’s interventionist foreign policy and the our current wars in particular, for both moral and financial reasons. Some have been critical of the Patriot Act and warrantless searches. But as important as whether or not the goals of the Tea Party and progressives line up, nonviolent methods, in and of themselves, have meaning.

Principled advocates of nonviolence argue that it is not just a means for achieving a goal, but that it’s concerned with the character of our methods – what processes, what kinds of speeches, what kinds of actions – we use to achieve goals together. The question of whether or not Tea Party activists are “real” nonviolent activists or not is a version of a question that is as old as theories of democracies: What is the difference between democracy and mob rule? The will of the people can be irrational, violent and xenophobic and can mean the exploitation of the few. Yet the rule of the people is the only way to ensure that the few do not exploit the many and discussing and reasoning with others is preferable to relying on the decisions of a few individuals. How can we have the benefits of democracy without the dangers of it?

Some have asked where the Tea Party was when President Bush was running up historic national debt, shredding personal liberties and expanding the scope of the Federal government. However, I think if we look at the last few years through the lens of nonviolence, the appearance of people power that brought President Obama and the Democrats into power in 2008 must be related to the appearance of people power that just won such large gains for the Republicans. The notoriously lethargic and apathetic American people are stirring, and it is having all kinds of effects, both in terms of public policy and the character of our discourse.

If there is one thing that the left and right agree on it is that we are dissatisfied – so dissatisfied that people are taking to the streets, making phone calls, donating money and talking and arguing about politics in ways reminiscent of the tumultuous years of the late-1960’s and early-1970’s. We often hear that the country is polarized and to the extent that means we are no longer listening to each other or brought to a point of desiring to exclude or destroy one another, such polarization is damaging. But in another sense, American democracy has always depended upon the revitalizing power of citizens being brought into the public sphere by severe disagreements about fundamental issues.

Met Police take down protest advice blog

jj November 20th, 2010

By Tom Espiner, 16 November, 2010 in ZDNet UK

A website that offered advice to protesters has been shut down at the behest of the Metropolitan Police, prompting criticism from a legal human rights organisation.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Fitwatch website was taken offline on Monday by hosting company JustHost.com, after the firm received a letter from police.

Fitwatch administrator Emily Apple said in a Guardian blog post on Tuesday that the police had requested the website be taken offline as it was “attempting to pervert the course of justice”.

Apple said that a Fitwatch blog post had prompted the police action. The blog post offered advice to students involved in protests against tuition fee rises at Millbank Tower on Wednesday last week, which resulted in smashed windows, and a fire extinguisher being thrown from a roof. Millbank houses the Conservative Party headquarters.

The blog post, which was reprinted on a number of sites, recommended that students who were at the protests and were worried about being identified by police should consider changing their appearance.

“Perhaps now is a good time for a make-over,” said the blog post. “Get a haircut and colour, grow a beard, wear glasses. It isn’t a guarantee, but may help throw them off the scent.”

The website was closed down after a letter was sent to JustHost.com by the Police Central eCrime Unit (PCeU), according to the Guardian. The letter was signed by Will Hodgeson, an acting member of CO11, the Metropolitan Police public order branch.

Detective superintendent Charlie McMurdie of PCeU told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that PCeU had liaised with CO11 about the protests, but declined to comment further.

Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, Head of PceU, Metropolitan Police

Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, Head of PceU, Metropolitan Police

“We were engaging with our public order department [about the protests],” said McMurdie.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said in a statement that the police had requested that JustHost.com take Fitwatch down.

“We were concerned this website was giving information about destroying evidence,” said the spokesman. “We drew this to the attention of the internet infrastructure providers and they suspended the site.”

Legal human rights group Justice told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the police action appeared to be disproportionate.

“I would have thought [the police] would need a court order,” said Justice human rights policy director Eric Metcalfe. “Police would have to show specific criminal activity to remove the website as a whole.”

Metcalfe said that the police have a general power to order the removal of content from the internet that encourages criminality, such as bomb-making instructions. However, advice given to protesters about civil disobedience does not normally fall into this category, said Metcalfe.

“If the website is saying, if you commit a crime, don’t get caught, that’s free speech,” said Metcalfe. “It isn’t unlawful to express an opinion.” Depending on interpretation, specific advice to destroy clothing in relation to a violent offence may be a different matter, Metcalfe said.

The legal expert said that Fitwatch’s aim appeared to be to frustrate police operations, and that this in itself was not unlawful.

“It’s not the business of the police to take down a website just because it frustrates their activities,” said Metcalfe. “The general charge of ‘perverting the course of justice’ is disproportionate. The effect is expedient for police — it gets rid of a website that makes the police’s job difficult.”

JustHost.com had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Make the 24th November DAY X for the Coalition

jj November 16th, 2010

Student activists have called for further mass civil disobedience targeting the coalition Government, following last week’s occupation of the Conservative headquarters.

More than 50 arrests have been made since the recent violence

More than 50 arrests have been made since the recent violence

This statement was passed by the 400-strong “Take Back Education” teach-in at King’s College London on the 27th February 2010:

Education is under attack. Up to a third of university funding – £2.5bn – is to be cut, 30 universities could shut down and over 14,000 lecturers may lose their jobs. Big businesses exert more and more control over the university system. Cuts in student places and higher fees could exclude many people from higher education altogether.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Education workers are winning through strike action. Student protests are taking off across Europe, with universities occupied to stop neoliberal reforms – and to take control of campus for another kind of education. From this conference we resolve build on this resistance, and:

1. To support, build and encourage action against education cuts through demonstrations, student occupations and industrial action. To build solidarity with these struggles through inviting strikers, occupiers and others to speak at our college/union/campaign meetings; organising petitions, collections, and solidarity demonstrations and occupations.
2. To organise regional teach-ins on the Take Back Education model. To launch regional education action networks from these that can help develop local networks of resistance and spread the kind of action that can win.
3. To organise a national coordination from here to help coordinate and spread our resistance nationally. This coordination should produce and distribute without delay a national bulletin carrying reports and announcements from this teach-in and the developing local struggles. It will help to spread the resistance when people move into action.
4. To mobilise for and support the London wide demonstration called by London region UCU to defend education on March 20th and other initiatives such as the no cuts at Westminster demonstration on Monday 1st, the Leeds UCU demo Thursday 4th march, and No Cuts @ Kings protest on Sat 13th March.
5. To recognise the cuts in education as part of a broader attack on the public sector, and the need for solidarity across the sector. To support and mobilise for the national demonstration against public sector cuts on the 10th April.
6. To organise through our respective trade unions, students unions, local anti-cuts groups, campaigns and organisations support for a national demonstration to defend education in the autumn.

November 14, 2010
by educationactivistnetwork

The 10th November protest at Millbank has drawn comparisons with the poll tax riot of 31st March 1990. This was followed by a wave of demonstrations at town halls and councils and a civil disobedience campaign of non-payment. By November 1990 the tax had been abolished and Margaret Thatcher had resigned.

We need to ramp up action against the Con-Dem Coalition in the same way now. Let’s turn Wednesday 24th November into DAY X for the Coaliton!

TARGET LIB DEMS AFTER NEW BETRAYAL

After revelations in the Guardian newspaper showing that the Liberal Democrats planned all along to renege on their promises about tuition fees, we want a day of mass walkouts to converge on a demonstration outside the Lib Dem HQ at 2pm.

STUDENTS AND WORKERS UNITE

This will be followed by an early evening demonstration on Downing Street bringing together students with trade unionists, the unemployed and everyone under attack by the Con-Dems.

Revolt of China’s twittering classes

jj October 20th, 2010

BEIJING

Source: Korea Times

Liu Xiaobo was recently awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. That award comes at a crucial moment in Chinese politics, as it may well become a stepping stone on China’s long march toward greater freedom.

Yet few voices in mainland Chinese media are discussing Liu’s Nobel Prize. The government’s propaganda department has ordered major media to keep the news from spreading to the public by imposing strict censorship. In fact, on CCTV’s widely viewed 7 p.m. national newscast, not a word on Liu was mentioned on the day (Oct. 8th) he received the prize.

Despite this news blackout, China’s blogosphere and microblogs exploded after Liu was announced as the winner. For example, on Sina’s microblog site, bloggers used pictures, euphemisms, and English or traditional Chinese characters to avoid censorship.

Twitter-style microblogging is extremely popular in China. Twitter.com was officially blocked last year, following the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown and the riots in Xinjiang that summer.

Soon afterwards, its most famous Chinese clone, Fanfou.com, also was closed down, leaving one million registered users homeless. Nevertheless, although Twitter can be accessed in China only via proxy servers, it still plays a vital role in Chinese Internet life because of its ability to connect different news sources and social activists.

Indeed, Twitter is the only place where people can talk freely about Liu’s Nobel prize. A search of the hash tag “#Liuxiaobo” shows that relevant messages pop up hundreds of times per minute.

More generally, Twitter has become a powerful tool for Chinese citizens as they increasingly play a role in reporting local news in their communities. But the social revolution brought by microblogging might be even more important than the communication revolution.

Indeed, here Chinese Twitter users lead the world, using it for everything from social resistance, civic investigation, and monitoring public opinion, to creating black satire, “organizing without organizations” in the Guangdong anti-incineration movement, and mailing postcards to prisoners of conscience.

Ever since Iranians used Twitter to swap information and inform the outside world about the mushrooming protests against the stolen presidential election of June 2009, there has been much discussion about the role of digital activism in authoritarian countries like China. Does Web 2.0 technology imply an analogous role for “Twivolution” in a Chinese democratic transition one day?

Twitter political activism in China challenges the simplistic yet widespread assumption that social media in the hands of activists can lead swiftly to mass mobilization and social change. Instead, these information-sharing tools and channels promote more subtle social progress.

That subtlety reflects the distinction between macro-politics and micro-politics. Macro-politics is structural, whereas micro-politics is daily. Changes in the micro-political system do not necessarily lead to an adjustment in the macro structure, particularly in hyper-controlled political systems like China’s.

But if small units are well organized, they can greatly improve the well-being of society as a whole, bit by bit, by working at the micro level. “Micro-information” and “micro-exchange” can push forward real change.

Why is micro-power so important? In the past, only a few highly motivated people engaged in political activism; the masses took almost no initiative. Passionate people did not understand why the public seemed unconcerned about their efforts. Today, highly motivated people can lower the threshold for action so that people with less passion join their efforts.

Currently, the Chinese Twittersphere has three prominent features: First, as China’s rulers strengthen their censorship efforts, Twitter has become highly politicized.

Moreover, Twitters brings opinion leaders together around one virtual table, attracting a lot of “new public intellectuals” and “rights advocates,” as well as veterans of civil rights movements and exiled dissidents. Its influence on Chinese cyberspace and traditional media is the result of this grouping.

Finally, Twitter can be used as a mobilizing tool in China. Recent years have seen an explosion of activities indicating that Twitter has become the coordinating platform for many campaigns asserting citizens’ rights. With the proliferation of Twitter clones in China (all the major portals now offer microblog services), social movements in China are getting a long-term boost.

So Twitter has become a major tool to promote contentious politics in China. It can effectively link discourse and action, generate widespread campaigns, and forge common ground among rights activists, public intellectuals, and all kinds of Twitter users.

In fact, a series of protests and events held since the second half of 2009 suggests a close relationship between Twitter and contentious real-life politics, and thus invites new possibilities for reshaping China’s authoritarian regime.

Hu Yong is professor of Internet studies at Peking University. For more stories and information, visit Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).

The Gay Liberation Front’s social revolution

jj October 13th, 2010

Forty years ago, the Gay Liberation Front challenged society’s gender system – luckily we’ve had some success

From The Guardian

On 13 October 1970, the Gay Liberation Front was founded in Britain. It was a modest beginning, with 19 people meeting in a basement in the London School of Economics. But it grew rapidly and proved to be a defining, watershed moment in British queer history. From 1970 onwards, thanks to GLF, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) mindset changed for ever, from victims to victors.

I was an activist in the GLF, aged 19 with long curly hair and living in Shepherd’s Bush with my 16-year-old boyfriend, Peter Smith. I was a student. He was a budding jazz guitarist.

GLF was a glorious, enthusiastic and often chaotic mix of anarchists, hippies, leftwingers, feminists, liberals and counter-culturalists. Despite our differences, we shared a radical idealism – a dream of what the world could and should be – free from not just homophobia but the whole sex-shame culture, which oppressed straights as much as LGBTs. We were sexual liberationists and social revolutionaries, out to turn the world upside down.

GLF espoused a nonviolent revolution in cultural values and attitudes. It questioned marriage, the nuclear family, monogamy and patriarchy – as well as the wars in Vietnam and Ireland. Although against homophobic discrimination, GLF’s main aim was never equality within the status quo. We saw society as fundamentally unjust and sought to change it, to end the oppression of LGBTs – and of everyone else.

GLF aligned itself with the movements for women’s, black, Irish, working-class and colonial freedom. We marched for troops out of Ireland and against the anti-union Industrial Relations Act. Although critical of the “straight left” and often condemned by them, most of us saw ourselves as part of the broad anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist movement, striving for the emancipation of all humankind.

Our idealistic vision involved creating a new sexual democracy, without homophobia, misogyny, racism and class privilege. Erotic shame and guilt would be banished. There would be sexual freedom and human rights for everyone – gay, bi and straight. Our message was “innovate, don’t assimilate”.

GLF’s critique of straight society amounted to more than condemning violations of gay civil rights and campaigning for equal treatment. Revolutionary not reformist, our goal was an end to “male chauvinism” and the “gender system”.

We saw queer oppression as a consequence, at least in part, of the way many LGBT people deviated from the socially prescribed gender roles of traditional masculinity and femininity. According to the orthodoxy of millennia, men were expected to act masculine and desire women. Women were supposed to be feminine and be attracted to men.

We queers subverted this conventional gender system. Gay men love other men and many of us are deemed inadequately macho. Lesbians love other women and tend to be less passive and dependent on men than most of their heterosexual sisters. Queer males don’t have to sexually subjugate women and female queers have no need for men to fulfil their erotic and emotional needs.

This is a part of the reason why we’ve been persecuted for centuries. Our nonconformity threatened the gender system which has, historically, sustained the social hegemony of male heterosexuality and misogyny.

GLF positively celebrated queer deviance. We said the right to be gay includes the right to disobey straight gender norms. We singled out macho heterosexual masculinity, with its long tradition of domination and aggression, as the main oppressor of LGBTs and women. While not condemning all straight men, we saw sexist, homophobic straight males as a major roadblock to women’s and gay liberation. This is why GLF allied with the women’s liberation movement.

The “radical drag” and “gender-bender” politics of GLF glorified male gentleness and gender role subversion. It was a conscious, if sometimes exaggerated, attempt to renounce the oppressiveness and privilege of orthodox masculinity and to undermine the way it functioned to buttress the subordination of women and gay men.

The dissolution of straight male machismo was, we argued, the key to ending LGBT and female oppression. True human liberation could only be achieved by breaking down the rigidity of the gender system and ending its tyranny. This transformation was necessary to allow gender-variant people – both gay and straight – to live their lives freely, without stigma or shame.

In contrast to the gay law reform movement, GLF’s strategy for queer emancipation was to change society’s values and norms, rather than adapt to them. We sought a cultural revolution to overturn centuries of male heterosexual domination and thereby free both queers and women.

Forty years on, GLF’s gender agenda has been partly won. Male and female roles are, today, less prescribed and inflexible than in 1970. There’s greater fluidity and gender variance is more accepted. Butch women and fem men – whether homo or hetero – are still rarely social icons but they are also less likely to be demonised and outcast.

Girlish boys and boyish girls don’t get victimised as much as in times past. LGBT kids often now come out at the age of 12 or 14. While many are bullied, many others are not. The acceptance of sexual and gender diversity is increasing. The women and men of GLF trail-blazed a social revolution. Bravo!

A Study in Middle East Nonviolence

jj October 11th, 2010

Movie Review of Budrus from NYT

American audiences watching the documentary “Budrus,” about a pioneering effort in nonviolent protest by Palestinians in the West Bank, will find many of the images familiar. The marching, the chanting, the nerve-racking encounters between protesters and jumpy, heavily armed young policemen and soldiers: it’s “Eyes on the Prize” with olive trees.

The writer and director Julia Bacha has fashioned an engrossing and sometimes inspiring account of the confrontations that took place in the village of Budrus in 2003 and 2004 over the building of the Israeli security fence, relying on footage shot at the time by more than a dozen people. At first she keeps the larger and more intractable issues in the background, focusing on the stark contrasts of unarmed Palestinian women jumping in front of bulldozers and being beaten and gassed by the Israeli police.

As the protests, led by the quiet, tough-minded mayor, Ayed Morrar, and his teenage daughter Iltezam, succeed in stalling construction of the fence (which threatens to destroy 3,000 of the villagers’ olive trees), the Israeli news media take notice, and the situation grows more complex. Mr. Morrar, having invited women to participate — an unusual step — goes further and welcomes Israeli peace activists. Soon both the Israeli army and Palestinian politicians are involved; neither is a welcome presence. The cycle of violence the Morrars sought to end seems inescapable.

Ms. Bacha doesn’t duck the dispiriting aspects of the story: she shows us how young Palestinians eventually began throwing stones, and Israeli troops began shooting. “Budrus” makes a convincing case for the courage of the protesters (while giving ample screen time to the commander of the Israeli border police unit they confronted, who happened to be a very attractive young woman). The ultimate value of nonviolent protest in the occupied territories, however, is beyond the film’s scope.

BUDRUS

Written and directed by Julia Bacha; directors of photography, Shai Pollack, Monalisa Sundbom, Jonathan Massey, Ms. Bacha, Riyad Deis and Mohammed Fawzi; edited by Geeta Gandbhir and Ms. Bacha; music by Kareem Roustom; produced by Ronit Avni, Ms. Bacha and Rula Salameh; released by Just Vision. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. In Arabic, Hebrew and English, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 21 minutes. This film is not rated.

Protect Democracy from FBI Raids on Activist Homes

jj September 28th, 2010

From Fellowship of Reconciliation.

The FBI raided homes and confiscated papers, computers, phones and CDs of peace and rights activists in Minnesota and Chicago in the early morning of Friday, September 24, in what agents said was part of a counterterrorism investigation. The Fellowship of Reconciliation urges our members and other concerned citizens to contact Attorney General Eric Holder at 202-353-1555 to call for an end to actions targeting legitimate dissent, and to participate in protests of these actions in your area.

Students for a Democratic Society protest at FBI office

FOR Executive Director Mark Johnson was in Chicago this weekend, and participated in a Monday protest at the FBI headquarters there. “It has also actively alerted us all that our efforts to seek peace and justice through nonviolent means is being scrutinized by the government with what can only been seen as an effort to intimidate and chill speech and criticism,” said Johnson in a report published today on FOR’s web site.

The raids come in the context of the Supreme Court decision in June on the Humanitarian Law Project, which broadly interprets assistance to terrorism to include nonviolent engagement with armed groups, such as conflict resolution training and legal advice. The federal law upheld by the court decision and cited in the search warrants prohibits, “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” The Supreme Court rejected a free speech challenge to the material support law from humanitarian aid groups. Under the law, individuals can face up to 15 years in prison for providing “material support” to groups designated by the US government as terrorists, even if their work is intended to promote peaceful, lawful objectives. “Material support” is defined to include any “service,” “training,” “expert advice or assistance” or “personnel.”

“Humanitarian and peace organizations say their direct interaction with violent or terrorist groups is vital to intervention efforts,” the Christian Science Monitor reported. “The Supreme Court decision means they do it at their peril.” Last week’s raids are evidence of that. “Training groups to pursue peaceful resolution of their disputes should be encouraged, not made criminal,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel with the Constitution Center.

The raids come on the heels of a Justice Department probe that found the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006. Among the groups investigated were Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Catholic Worker and the Thomas Merton Center, a pacifist group based in Pittsburgh.

What do we know about these raids?

On Friday, September 24, the FBI raided at least six homes in Chicago and Minneapolis, with the explanation that the activists targetted were under investigation for providing “material support to foreign terrorist organizations,” namely the FARC in Colombia, the Peoples Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hezbollah. The FBI also raided the office of the Anti-war Committee in Minneapolis, which had organized a demonstration during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Some of the peace activists whose houses were raided are members of the Anti-War Committee. The New York Times quotes an FBI spokesperson who said the raids were part of “an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation.” While no arrests have been made so far, the activists have been served with grand jury subpoenas.

The raids appear to be ‘fishing expeditions’ — attempts to gather as much personal information as possible from the activists’ homes in the hopes of bringing some charges against them. Groups listed in the warrants are Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The warrants also authorized agents to seize items such as electronics, photographs, videos, address books and letters, and seeks information pertaining to the activists’ work in a left group called Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Click here to download a PDF of the search warrant.

Several of the activists whose homes were raided and/or received grand jury summons have been active in the Colombia Action Network (based in Minnesota) and/or the Free Ricardo Palmera Committee. Ricardo Palmera (alias Simon Trinidad) is a leader of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) who was tried for conspiracy in the kidnapping of the three US military contractors because of his membership in FARC, though he was not alleged to have taken part in the kidnapping itself, according to attorney Paul Wolf. Palmera was sentenced to 60 years in prison and is currently in solitary confinement at a SuperMax prison in Colorado.

FOR does not share the rhetoric of the Free Ricardo Palmera Committee in support of the FARC project in Colombia, as it goes against our core commitment to nonviolence. However, democratic process and First Amendment guarantees require that people in this country be able to express these points of view, and those who disagree to engage in debate with them, without fear of seizure of one’s cell phone, computer, and other personal possessions, of being labelled a “terrorist suspect”, or of being targeted by armed federal agencies.
What you can do:

* Call the Attorney General’s office at 202-353-1555 and demand an end to political intimidation of peace activists.
* Call or write the “newspapers of record” such as the New York Times and Washington Post, asking them to give full and prominent coverage to this story.
* Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, explaining why this kind of intimidation is a danger to democracy.
* Call your local members of Congress to demand that the FBI stop harassing peace activists.
* Participate in any local actions to protest these raids. Click here for a list of protest events around the country.

(Parts of this alert were drawn from an article written by Lynn Koh of War Times/Tiempo de Guerras.)

Belarus: Harassment continues in run-up to presidential election

jj September 27th, 2010

Lukashenko called for elections in December, a year ahead of schedule. The reason is that the profitable agreement with Russia to buy cheap oil will end by January 1. and he will face serious financial problems. High price on fuel will upset his voters. If people cannot afford heating their houses during winter they will not vote for the present leadership. The main problem for the opposition in these elections is that they cannot unite. Sixteen different candidates will be an easy match for Lukashenko. Each of them need to collect 100 000 signatures, but it is expected that the authorities will be generous in accepting most of them…

jj

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its concern about the hounding of journalists in the run-up to the presidential election scheduled for 19 December. Harassment by the authorities is severely curtailing the already limited freedom of the Belarusian media, which are still reeling from journalist Oleg Bebenin’s mysterious death at the start of September.

The opposition newspaper Narodnaya Volia received a new information ministry warning on 13 September for allegedly “disseminating false information” about the Committee for State Control (SCC). The newspaper has received four official warnings in the space of 10 months and is facing the possibility of a three-month suspension or permanent closure if the authorities take it to court.

Reporters Without Borders is afraid that article 51 of the media law, which allows the authorities to suspend newspapers after two warnings, will be used to close critical newspapers or pressure them to censor themselves. Several independent newspapers already have the threat of closure hanging over them, after receiving warnings about “violations,” including violations of the most minor kind.

Narodnaya Volia got its latest warning because of two articles at the end of August about alleged corruption and money laundering within the SCC. The information ministry gave the newspaper 10 days to publish a retraction. “The dissemination of false information about the Committee for State Control brings discredit on this institution, may affect its activities and have other negative consequences,” the ministry said.

Narodnaya Volia deputy editor Svetlana Kalinkina told Reporters Without Borders she was surprised not to have been contacted by the ministry before being given the warning, which has been the procedure used in the past. She added that she was concerned that Narodnaya Volia and other critical newspapers could be shut down before the presidential election.

In a press release on 17 August, Reporters Without Borders had already expressed its concern about the spate of warnings received by Narodnaya Volia and another leading opposition newspaper, Nasha Niva, and the abuses arising from the new media law.

Other methods used to hound media include denying them access to advertising. This is the case with Babruyski Kurier, a paper based in the southeastern city of Babruysk. One of the country’s oldest regional publications (founded in 1914), it is on the verge of bankruptcy because the authorities have told advertisers to boycott it. As a result of this unofficial but effective ban, it has been starved of advertising revenue and has been unable to publish since July.

The newspaper has been subjected to other forms of harassment by the Babruysk authorities. It has for example repeatedly been denied accreditation to cover events organised by the municipal council and other official activities. The combination of restricted access to information and financial pressure has resulted in its being unable to compete with other newspapers that steer clear of sensitive subjects.

In response to requests from the Bureau of Ideology, the prosecutor’s office has sent several warnings to Babruyski Kurier on spurious grounds, which mean the authorities are now in a position to suspend or close the newspaper. But that may not be necessary if it fails to win back any of its advertisers.

Underground press in Burma challenges generals

jj September 15th, 2010

From The Australian
BURMA is a dangerous place for the media. Foreign journalists are routinely refused entry.

Local journalists are heavily censored, underground journalists are hunted down, arrested and jailed for years.

Paranoid and xenophobic, the ruling military junta is ever vigilant to quash criticism, especially now, with an election due.

An election set for November, the first in 20 years, has been widely derided as a farce and a military publicity exercise that will do little to change the nature of the repressive regime.

Nevertheless, optimists think the exercise might open a little space for incremental change.

So journalists, inside and outside the barricaded nation, have been monitoring developments with great interest.

As the Thailand bureau chief of the non-profit Democratic Voice of Burma news network, Toe Zaw Latt helps oversee 100 staff working illicitly in Burma, as well as more than 38 in Thailand.
An Australian citizen with a degree from Monash University, Toe Zaw Latt is sure the ruling State Peace and Development Council will try to further restrict news from Burma as the elections get nearer.

He is working on ways to foil the generals’ plans and get news out to the world. However rigged it is, the election might bring some surprises, and however they pan out, they are important news.

“Sure, it’s getting more dangerous,” he says, in the DVB headquarters in Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Mai.

“Everything is planned, everything is controlled. They will shut down the internet — they did it for the Saffron uprising (by the monks in 2007), the referendum, the visit of (UN Secretary-General) Ban Ki Moon.

“But we are already prepared for this. We have to use the latest technology, we have to open many ways to overcome this deadlock.”

The junta has established a Russian-trained police cyber-crime unit, he says, to track down undercover and citizen journalists trying to send information out of Burma via the internet.

Toe Zaw Latt is reluctant to spell out details of the various ways of getting round the expected clampdown, but it’s likely they include satellite phones, clandestine internet tricks, and straightforward smuggling of footage over the border to Thailand. DVB has stringers all over Burma, including conflict zones.

“If anything happens we know, we know,” he says.

The news network broadcasts television and radio into Burma in various languages, to an estimated audience of 10 million, and also runs a website (www.dvb.no).

Cut off from the world and real news by heavy restriction of the internet and rigorous censorship of newspapers, Burmese mostly rely on external broadcasts from DVB, the BBC World Service, VOA, and Radio Free Asia.

Toe Zaw Latt says the media in Burma are “largely ineffective”.

Weekly titles such as the Myanmar Times, owned by Australian Ross Dunkley, are heavily censored, he says, and they cannot be relied on.

“They repeat propaganda,” he says. “They have to, it’s compulsory.” So far, he says, the junta has not permitted publication of a privately owned daily newspaper.

DVB journalists are often leaked information by well-wishers from all strata of the junta.

“Not every soldier, not even all the high-ranking ones, is happy with what is going on,” he says.

“They are happy to leak information to us.”

He notes with some pride that DVB first aired the news that the junta wanted to develop nuclear weapons.

This stream of leaks may dry up as the election gets closer, and leaking becomes more dangerous. Still, the smiling bureau chief says, DVB will not miss anything.

Junta officers cannot be directly questioned, but DVB always gets its hands on information from tightly controlled press conferences.

This simmering military dissatisfaction, Toe Zaw Latt says, is the impetus behind the elections.

The ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council, has been impervious to Western sanctions and uninterested in Western criticism.

Civil protest, such as the Saffron uprising, left the generals unmoved. So why even bother to stage elections?

Toe Zaw Latt says that’s the million-dollar question, and it has a very local answer. Many in the military were becoming restless, and asking what had happened to the back-to-barracks plan, and the “roadmap to democracy” mooted years ago.

Toe Zaw Latt was exiled from Burma in 1988, when a popular uprising challenged the junta and thousands were killed.

He won’t say how many of the 100 Burmese working for DVB in Burma are journalists and how many are support staff, as he wants to keep the junta in the dark as much as possible.

Nor will he say how many DVB journalists have been jailed, but it’s at least six, including one young woman who was sentenced to 27 years earlier this year for interviewing monks.

DVB journalists almost never carry cameras openly, and hidden cameras are used.

Some of the tricks were seen on Burma VJ, a documentary about DVB journalists that was in the running for an Academy Award earlier this year.

Junta paranoia extends to anyone seen with a video camera.

Video repair shop staff avoid taking cameras anywhere, in case they are caught in a sweep.

Video cameras are generally owned only by the rich, so any subversive journalist caught with a camera is in deep trouble.

Regardless of international scepticism about the election, Toe Zaw Latt thinks that it could open some space for civilian discourse.

Russia Uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent

jj September 12th, 2010

From NYT:
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY

IRKUTSK, Russia — It was late one afternoon in January when a squad of plainclothes police officers arrived at the headquarters of a prominent environmental group here. They brushed past the staff with barely a word and instead set upon the computers before carting them away. Taken were files that chronicled a generation’s worth of efforts to protect the Siberian wilderness.

The group, Baikal Environmental Wave, was organizing protests against Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s decision to reopen a paper factory that had polluted nearby Lake Baikal, a natural wonder that by some estimates holds 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.

Instead, the group fell victim to one of the authorities’ newest tactics for quelling dissent: confiscating computers under the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software.


Surveillance video shot by the police shows plainclothes officers confiscating computers from Baikal Environmental Wave.

Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years. Security officials say the inquiries reflect their concern about software piracy, which is rampant in Russia. Yet they rarely if ever carry out raids against advocacy groups or news organizations that back the government.

As the ploy grows common, the authorities are receiving key assistance from an unexpected partner: Microsoft itself. In politically tinged inquiries across Russia, lawyers retained by Microsoft have staunchly backed the police.

Interviews and a review of law enforcement documents show that in recent cases, Microsoft lawyers made statements describing the company as a victim and arguing that criminal charges should be pursued. The lawyers rebuffed pleas by accused journalists and advocacy groups, including Baikal Wave, to refrain from working with the authorities. Baikal Wave, in fact, said it had purchased and installed legal Microsoft software specifically to deny the authorities an excuse to raid them. The group later asked Microsoft for help in fending off the police. “Microsoft did not want to help us, which would have been the right thing to do,” said Marina Rikhvanova, a Baikal Environmental Wave co-chairwoman and one of Russia’s best-known environmentalists. “They said these issues had to be handled by the security services.”

Microsoft executives in Moscow and at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., asserted that they did not initiate the inquiries and that they took part in them only because they were required to do so under Russian law.

After The New York Times presented its reporting to senior Microsoft officials, the company responded that it planned to tighten its oversight of its legal affairs in Russia. Human rights organizations in Russia have been pressing Microsoft to do so for months. The Moscow Helsinki Group sent a letter to Microsoft this year saying that the company was complicit in “the persecution of civil society activists.”

Tough Ethical Choices

Microsoft, like many American technology giants doing business in authoritarian countries, is often faced with ethical choices over government directives to help suppress dissent. In China, Microsoft has complied with censorship rules in operating its Web search service, preventing Chinese users from easily accessing banned information. Its archrival Google stopped following censorship regulations there, and scaled back its operations inside China’s Internet firewall.

In Russia, leaders of advocacy groups and newspapers subjected to antipiracy raids said Microsoft was cooperating with the authorities because the company feared jeopardizing its business in the country. They said Microsoft needed to issue a categorical public statement disavowing these tactics and pledging to never cooperate in such cases.

Microsoft has not done that, but has promised to review its policies in Russia.

We take the concerns that have been raised very seriously,” Kevin Kutz, director of public affairs for Microsoft, said in a statement. Mr. Kutz said the company would ensure that its lawyers had “more clearly defined responsibilities and accountabilities.”

We have to protect our products from piracy, but we also have a commitment to respect fundamental human rights,” he said. “Microsoft antipiracy efforts are designed to honor both objectives, but we are open to feedback on what we can do to improve in that regard.

Microsoft emphasized that it encouraged law enforcement agencies worldwide to investigate producers and suppliers of illegal software rather than consumers. Even so, it has not publicly criticized raids against small Russian advocacy groups.

With pirated software prevalent in this country, it is not surprising that some of these groups might have some on their computers. Yet the issue, then, is why the police choose to focus on these particular targets — and whether they falsify evidence to make the charges more serious.

Microsoft also says it has a program in Russia to provide free and low-cost software to newspapers and advocacy groups so that they are in compliance with the law.

But the review of these cases indicates that the security services often seize computers whether or not they contain illegal software. The police immediately filed reports saying they had discovered such programs, before even examining the computers in detail. The police claims have in numerous instances been successfully discredited by defendants when the cases go before judges.

Given the suspicions that these investigations are politically motivated, the police and prosecutors have turned to Microsoft to lend weight to their cases. In southwestern Russia, the Interior Ministry declared in an official document that its investigation of a human rights advocate for software piracy was begun “based on an application” from a lawyer for Microsoft.

In another city, Samara, the police seized computers from two opposition newspapers, with the support of a different Microsoft lawyer. “Without the participation of Microsoft, these criminal cases against human rights defenders and journalists would simply not be able to occur,” said the editor of the newspapers, Sergey Kurt-Adzhiyev.

The plainclothes officers who descended upon the Baikal Wave headquarters said they were from the division that investigated commercial crime. But the environmentalists said they noticed at least one officer from the antiextremism department, which tracks opposition activists and had often conducted surveillance on the group.

The officers said they had received a complaint from a man named Dmitri Latyshev, who claimed that he had been in the headquarters and spotted unlicensed Microsoft software on the computers. The police produced a handwritten complaint from Mr. Latyshev, dated Jan. 27. The raid occurred the next day.

People at Baikal Wave said they had never seen or heard of Mr. Latyshev. Located in Irkutsk recently, Mr. Latyshev said by phone that he had filed the complaint but would not say why.

Baikal Wave’s leaders said they had known that the authorities used such raids to pressure advocacy groups, so they had made certain that all their software was legal.

But they quickly realized how difficult it would be to defend themselves.

They said they told the officers that they were mistaken, pulling out receipts and original Microsoft packaging to prove that the software was not pirated. The police did not appear to take that into consideration. A supervising officer issued a report on the spot saying that illegal software had been uncovered.

Before the raid, the environmentalists said their computers were affixed with Microsoft’s “Certificate of Authenticity” stickers that attested to the software’s legality. But as the computers were being hauled away, they noticed something odd: the stickers were gone.

In all, 12 computers were confiscated. The group’s Web site was disabled, its finances left in disarray, its plans disclosed to the authorities.

The police also obtained personnel information from the computers. In the following weeks, officers tracked down some of the group’s supporters and interrogated them.

The police had one goal, which was to prevent us from working,” said Galina Kulebyakina, a co-chairwoman of Baikal Wave. “They removed our computers because we actively took a position against the paper factory and forcefully voiced it.”

They can do pretty much what they want, with impunity,” she said.

A Company’s Pollution

The paper factory is located on Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest lake, which is home to hundreds of species that exist nowhere else, including a freshwater seal. Over the years, the factory has spewed mercury, chlorine, heavy metals and other pollutants into the water.

Baikal Wave rejoiced when the factory closed in 2008, having succumbed to sizable losses, as well as pressure from environmentalists. But after the financial crisis hit, the Kremlin worried about unrest from unemployment. In January, Mr. Putin reopened the factory, which has employed as many as 2,000 people, saying that it no longer polluted the lake.

Baikal Wave, which was founded in Irkutsk, one of Russia’s largest cities, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, began planning a protest. That was when the officers showed up.

In a statement, the Irkutsk police said the raid was proper. “The inspection of Baikal Environmental Wave was intended to protect intellectual property and had no connection whatsoever with the activities of the advocacy organization,” the statement said.

It said a forensic examination of the computers in February showed that several contained illegal software that would have cost more than $3,300. Baikal Wave said the examination was fraudulent.

Prosecutors say they are now weighing whether to press charges against Baikal Wave or its leaders. It is possible, though unlikely, that they could face jail time if convicted.

Neither Microsoft’s Moscow office nor its local lawyer contacted Baikal Wave to hear its side. The lawyer did provide testimony to the police about the value of the software that Baikal Wave was accused of illegally obtaining.

Baikal Wave sent copies of its software receipts and other documentation to Microsoft’s Moscow office to show that it had purchased the software legally. The group said it believed that the authorities would be under pressure to drop the case if Microsoft would confirm the documents’ authenticity.

Microsoft declined to do so. In a letter to Baikal Wave, the company said it would forward the materials only to the authorities in Irkutsk, which already had copies of them.

A determination of the actual circumstances of this case and the question of whether a violation of the law took place is the duty of the court,” Microsoft said.

The company also told Baikal Wave that it was willing to have its specialists assist the police in Irkutsk in evaluating the computers.

In response to written questions, Alexander Strakh, Microsoft’s chief antipiracy lawyer in Moscow, said that in all these cases, Microsoft assisted the authorities only as called for under Russian law.

Mr. Strakh was asked whether Microsoft believed that these raids were a tool to suppress the opposition. “We have no direct knowledge of decisions by authorities to use investigations in that manner,” he said.

Microsoft has hired numerous private lawyers across Russia who represent the company in piracy cases. Several of the lawyers have cropped up in these politically sensitive inquiries.

This year, prosecutors in the southwestern city of Krasnodar brought a piracy case against an immigrant rights activist named Anastasia Denisova. She said in an interview that she was surprised at the aggressive posture of Microsoft’s local lawyer.

In an official document, the Interior Ministry said the case against Ms. Denisova was begun “based on an application” from the lawyer. (Microsoft’s Moscow office said that statement was not correct.)

Ms. Denisova said the lawyer overestimated the value of the allegedly pirated software. As a result, the accusations were more serious.

The Microsoft lawyer was very active, coming to the court all the time, even though he was not summoned,” she said. “He also claimed that he was going to sue me, despite the fact that Microsoft had publicly stated that it would not do so against an advocacy group.”

In May, after Ms. Denisova had spent several months under the threat of a prison sentence, the charges were dropped. Prosecutors acknowledged that the investigation had been mishandled.

Samara, in Russia’s industrial heartland, has been a focal point for these raids. In May 2007, when Mr. Putin was holding a summit meeting there with European leaders, the police sought to prevent protests by seizing computers from several organizations, including Golos, an election monitoring and human rights group, and the local edition of Novaya Gazeta, the country’s most influential opposition newspaper.

Last year, they took computers from another newspaper, Samarskaya Gazeta. According to case records, the police conducted that search based upon a complaint from a man who admitted that he had never been in the newspaper’s offices or seen its computers.

Mr. Kurt-Adzhiyev, the editor of both newspapers, said Microsoft’s lawyer in the case regularly appeared at court hearings to back prosecutors and the police. He said the lawyer testified that seized computers contained pirated software even though it was later shown that the computers had never been examined.

Microsoft says publicly that they have no claims in these cases, but then their lawyers come into the court and say whatever the police want them to say,” Mr. Kurt-Adzhiyev said.

The Damage Is Done

Prosecutors eventually dropped or suspended the charges against Mr. Kurt-Adzhiyev after he was able to discredit them. But he said the damage was done. He said the newspapers lost computers and data, and he spent an enormous amount of time ensnared in legal proceedings. The local edition of Novaya Gazeta had to close.

Mr. Kurt-Adzhiyev said he now realized that the authorities were not so much interested in convictions as in harassing opponents. Even if the inquiries are abandoned, they are debilitating when they require months to defend.

Microsoft’s Moscow office said its lawyers had conducted themselves properly in the cases in Krasnodar and Samara.

In Irkutsk, Baikal Environmental Wave has also struggled to recover from the raid. It located some old computers and was still able to hold protests against the paper factory.

The seized computers were not returned by the police until July, five months after they were removed. Their hard drives had been inspected by police experts in February. The environmentalists do not know whether all their data remain, and they are sure that files were copied.

Ms. Rikhvanova, one of the group’s co-founders, who has been fighting to defend Lake Baikal since the 1960s, was unable to use her computer. When she got it back, she discovered that it had been disabled by a virus.

Transparency International strongly concerned about safety of arrested Algerian activist

jj September 8th, 2010

Transparency International (TI) is greatly concerned for the safety of anti-corruption activist, Djilali Hadjadj, following his recent arrest, and calls on the Algerian government to ensure his safety and to adhere to the country’s code of criminal procedure.

Hadjadj, president of the Algerian anti-corruption organisation, L’Association algérienne de lutte contre la corruption (AACC), was arrested on the evening of Sunday 05 September at the airport in the north-eastern city of Constantine. Formal charges have not yet been brought but the arrest appears to be linked to a case involving Hadjadj’s former employer, the Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Santé (CNAS).

Although a local human rights organisation confirmed that Hadjadj has been in contact with his lawyer and wife, TI is worried about his security, particularly in light of concerns over his health. According to family members, Hadjadj will be transferred today to Algiers, where a formal arraignment before a judge is expected. The activist was due to be transferred to the capital on Monday 06 September but the transfer is now scheduled to take place today.

For years, Hadjadj has worked to prevent and stop corruption in Algeria, with a critical but constructive stance. TI calls upon the Algerian government to ensure a fair and transparent process, fully in adherence with the law and not hindered by bureaucratic obstacles or delay tactics.

###

Transparency International is the civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption

Media Contact:

Deborah Unger
dunger ( at ) transparency.org
Tel. +49 30 34 38 20 666 or 662

Meta-activism project

jj September 3rd, 2010


The Global Digital Activism Data Set (GDADS) is the first attempt to quantitatively study digital activism as a global phenomenon. It is an all-volunteer project to create an open case study database under a Creative Commons license that will be accessible to scholars and activists around the world.

We are currently in the process of collected digital activism case studies from around the world and inputting them into a database on GoogleDocs. You can download a free copy of the data set here and learn more below.
Current Needs

- Open Case Study Submissions: To submit a case study to our master list, please click here to access the online form. (August, 2010)
- Volunteers: We currently have a waiting list of over 1,000 cases waiting to be entered into the database. To volunteer to assist with this task, please contact Mary AT Meta-Activism DOT org. (August, 2010)
FAQ

Who is making the data set and who can use it?
This is an open initiative, where the data set will be created by volunteers. To volunteer to be part of this project, email contact AT meta-activism DOT org. The final data set will be available under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license to allow maximum proliferation of the results.

Is it easy to submit a case?
Yes, submitting a case takes only a couple of minutes. The case study submission form (bit.ly/yourcase) asks for only 5 pieces of information about each case:

1) Title
2) Year
3) Country
4) 1 to 3 Sources
5) Your Contact Info

What types of case studies will be accepted?
In order to make the data set useful to the widest array of scholars and activists, we are defining the parameter very broadly to be:

1) Any instance in which digital technology is used in a campaign for social or political change that is initiated by citizens, either as individuals or through a nonprofit organization.
or
2) Any action in which citizens help create a public discussion of social and political change issues where no space for these discussions currently exists.

The reason for the second criterion is that what is political action differs from country to country, depending on the level of political freedom. Writing a blog post about the importance of elections does not challenge the status quo in the UK, but it is radical political speech in China. The goal is to include as much information in the data set as possible and then for scholars to extract from the data set the cases and variables that are useful to their own work.

What types of sources are permissible?
Because case studies of digital activism come from the popular press and citizen journalism as well as traditional peer-reviewed academic journals, we are adopting the relatively open Wikipedia standard for verifiability of sources : the information in the case study should be sourced from “reliable, third-party (independent), published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy.” (more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Verifiability).

While some cases are submitted individually to the data set, we are finding many caches that contain large numbers of cases that have already been created by other organizations in the fields of digital activism capacity-building and citizen media. Our principal sources so far have been Global Voices, Tactical Technology Collective, DigiActive, MobileActive, Video Volunteers, and FrontlineSMS.

Why isn’t the live case study spreadsheet public?
The live GoogleDoc spreadsheet contains the personal email addresses of people who submit cases, for the purposes of data verification and to build the GDADS community. In order to protect their privacy we have opted to keep the live list private. However, you can download a static version of the case study list at meta-activism.org/case-studies.

How will the data set be created?
The data set will be created in 2 steps:

1) Collection of Case Studies: We are currently building our list of global digital activism case studies. If you are aware of a case study that should be in our data set, please submit it using this form. You will be asked to title your case study and also provide year, country, and one to four sources (online resources preferred, as they are easier to access).

2) Coding of Case Studies: Once we have a usable number of case studies, we will begin a call for coders. Anyone can volunteer to code a case study. Each coder will be given basic information about the case (title, year, country, sources) and 30 days to read those sources and submit the data through a second form. If you are interested in being a coder, please submit your name and email address to contact AT meta-activism DOT org so you can be contacted when this phase begins.

How will the code book be created?
The code book will be created in 3 steps

1) Open Coding: Coding categories will developed through analysis of actual case studies. In the first phase, volunteers will code 10 to 15 cases assigning whatever variables they think makes sense and recording the results on a single GoogleDoc spreadsheet. This will lead to some redundancy, but the hope is that we will be able to identify a broad range of variables.

2) Creation of Consensus Version: After these 10-15 case studies have been coded, the coders will compare the variables they have all come up with and a consensus list of variables will be determined. This consensus list will be the basis of the form that the volunteer coders will use to code the rest of the case studies.

3) Amendment: Limited amendments to the original coding standard may be made after the consensus version is created.

How can I learn more or get involved?

Email – Mary AT meta-activism DOT org.

Pirate radio tries to beat repression in paradise

jj August 25th, 2010

Fiji’s democratic opposition hopes to evade military leader’s draconian censorship

The Independent Sunday, 22 August 2010

Newspapers face a clampdown from the regime of Commodore Bainimaram

Newspapers face a clampdown from the regime of Commodore Bainimaram

This is a story about repression in what many people would think of as some kind of paradise.

In a move inspired by pirate radio stations of the 1960s, political activists in the South Pacific are planning to position a Dutch-registered merchant vessel in international waters off the coast of Fiji to defy censors in the military dictatorship.

Opponents of the coup leader and self-appointed Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, hope to have the station broadcasting news and interviews by the end of next month in an effort to circumvent draconian media laws imposed on the island state’s press, radio and television.

Since taking power in a military coup in December 2006, Fiji’s strongman has slowly eaten away at the country’s democratic freedoms, installing newsroom censors and cracking down on foreign media ownership. Newspapers and radio stations now have to be 90 per cent locally owned, a stipulation that will almost certainly see the closure of the 140-year-old Fiji Times. The popular title, which has been owned by News Limited since 1987, has been emasculated since the censors moved in to demand the removal of any anti-government stories.

With most of the population too poor to access the internet or satellite television, the majority of Fijians rely on the press and transistor radios for their news. That is why Usaia Waqatairewa of the Fiji Democracy Movement has opted for pirate broadcasting. Now exiled in Australia, he plans to stream live programming to the ship from a Sydney newsroom and rebroadcast the material from an on-board transmitter on the AM waveband. “The basic purpose is to inform the public of what’s really happening in Fiji so that they can make an informed decision about whether to support Bainimarama or not,” he said.

Fiji has suffered four coups in the past two decades and is now facing an economic crisis that threatens to bring further instability to the 800,000 people who inhabit this sprawling archipelago. To make matters worse, there are increasing concerns about human rights as Commodore Bainimarama continues to crack down on those who oppose his dictatorship. In a rare interview aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last month, the military leader said, “we’ll need to shut some people up” before the country can return to democracy. “I don’t trust the people,” declared the Prime Minister, adding that he was none too happy about politicians or the judiciary, either.

After silencing the powerful Methodist church and the chiefs who are the traditional rulers of this fiercely patriotic nation, Mr Bainimarama sacked many judges.

Suspended from the Commonwealth and excluded from the recent South Pacific Forum annual meeting, Fiji risks becoming a pariah in the region at a time when it desperately needs friends. The Prime Minister also recently expelled Australia’s acting high commissioner to Fiji and held his own mini-regional conference to prove he can do without the support of those who disagree with him.

The reforms the commodore talks about strike at the very heart of Fiji’s racially divided society. For many years, about half the population was of Indian origin, descendants of indentured labourers who were brought to Fiji by the British in the 19th century to help in the sugar industry. In recent years, faced with eviction from their Fijian-owned farms after their leases expired, thousands of Indians have sought refuge overseas while many of those unable to leave have ended up in squatter camps.

When Mr Bainimarama seized power he promised a fairer society, with legislation designed to protect the interests of the Indian community. But while he may have been well intentioned, his policies are in danger of turning Fiji into an economic basket case. Unemployment, poverty and fear have created a society whose people are often too scared to talk.

Even the phones no longer guarantee confidentiality since the government ordered mobile and landline users to register all their personal details. One local carrier, Vodafone, is also demanding customers provide a left-hand thumb print and PIN, which the user would normally keep secret. The head of the Justice Ministry, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, claims the compulsory registration of all phones is the result of a spate of bomb threats and bogus calls. Critics suggest it is more to do with the interim government wanting to create a database of callers whose views do not correspond with the regime’s.

Telephone paranoia even extends to some tourists. A German businessman who used his satellite phone in a restaurant recently was reported to the police, who promptly raided his hotel room. He left the country in disgust shortly afterwards. So far, such stories have not damaged tourism, which is one of the few Fijian industries still booming.

A devalued local currency and a strong Australian dollar have made Fiji a bargain destination for overseas holidaymakers. In June alone, more than 45,000 Australians ignored the political considerations and headed to the country’s upmarket resorts.

Cocooned in luxury, they are unlikely to see any military presence or the squalor in which so many thousands of Fijians are forced to live in the squatter camps around the capital, Suva. But while the tourists are still heading to Fiji, businesses are pulling out. Australia’s Commonwealth Bank has sold its Fijian arm, and Qantas is trying to sell its 46 per cent stake in Fiji’s national airline, Air Pacific.

Despite these economic warning signals, Mr Bainimarama remains determined to do things his way. The Prime Minister has promised to go to the country in 2014, but, since he has repeatedly postponed his general election plans over the past three and a half years, few believe he will keep his word. And, if an application for a loan of F$1bn (£328m) from the IMF fails, “the country’s economic outlook will be shocking”, according to Anthony Bergin of the Australian Strategic Policy Unit.

Such a situation will make Usaia Waqatairewa’s plans for a pirate radio station all the more crucial in informing Fijians about what is happening. “We are not intending to broadcast propaganda. We just want to report the facts,” he says.

Relatives of Peru’s disappeared use knitting to demand justice

jj August 4th, 2010


Relatives of Peru’s disappeared use knitting to demand justice, meet police resistance
By: Karin Orr, The Advocacy Project, August 2, 2010
I recently observed as 30 women from The National Association of Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared Family Members of Peru (ANFASEP) gathered outside the Justice Ministry to continue knitting their “Chalina de la Esperanza” or “The Scarf of Hope.” The scarf is made up of knitted panels that carry the embroidered names of disappeared family members and the date they were last seen, and it is now an astonishing 200 meters long. Dressed in their traditional garb, the women sat peacefully along the fence of the Palacio de Justicia, knitting. The Police were not amused (left), and ordered them to leave. The women calmly gathered their needles and boxes of yarn, crossed the street, and continued to knit.
Read full article…

The Yes Men

Cecilia Ward March 24th, 2010

 

The Yes Men are a group of culture jammers who have been described by Naomi Klein as the “Jonathan Swift for the Jackass Generation”. (http://theyesmen.org/yes-men-book) The Yes Men was started by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno who use cheap suits and fake websites to carry out what they define as identity correction. In their own words, identity correction is all about ”[i]mpersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Our targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else.” (http://www.theyesmen.org/) They have impersonated international institutions such as WTO and transnational corporations such as Dow Chemical Company, Exxon and Halliburton. At conferences and in TV interviews they have proposed the buying and selling of votes and making siestas illegal. They have promoted what must be defined as brain wash and claimed that the abolishment of slavery might have been premature. And all in the name of well known corporations. Quite often their ideas verge on the ridiculous, like recycling dead workers into energy as a business idea. They take the free market logic to its extreme and ironizes over it in order to create awareness, allthough their pranks do not get recognised as such every time.

The Yes Men see themselves as a part of a cumulative movement fighting the neoliberal economic system and ruthless corporations and organisations. According to the Yes Men website, the main reasons for their actions include:

[...] (a) in order to demonstrate some of the mechanisms that keep bad people and ideas in power, and (b) because it’s absurdly fun. Their main goal is to focus attention on the dangers of economic policies that place the rights of capital before the needs of people and the environment.” (http://theyesmen.org/faq)

They have produced two documentaries about their actions called The Yes Men (2003) and The Yes Men fix The World (2009) and a book named The Yes Men : the true story f the end of the World Trade Organization (2004). They were also, among others, responsible for the printing of a fake New York Times edition which contained news that they would have liked to see, future news which are not impossible, but not as probable without massive pressure being practised on governments and authorities. Among these “news” are the end of the war in Iraq ending, a complete ban on weapons etc. (http://www.nytimes-se.com/)

In the most recent documentary showing the Yes Men’s actions, they pose as representatives for Dow Industrial Company, which now owns Union Carbide which was responsible for the chemical disaster in Bhopal in India in 1984 where 20 000 people died and 100 000 still suffer from the chemical pollution. Union Carbide compensated every survivor about US $500, which is far below the international compensation standards, and the people of Bhopal are still fighting for justice. Dow does not acknowledge any liability for the disaster. (http://studentsforbhopal.org/learn) In order to raise awareness to this issue the Yes Men made a website that was very similar to Dow’s and waited for waited for someone to mistake it for the company’s real website and contact them. After a while they got a call from BBC World with a request to do a TV interview for the 25 year memory of the disaster in Bhopal and they jumped at the opportunity. As usual they had invented a fake spokesperson with a fake statement from the existing company to show their ”corrected identity”. On air, in front of 300 million viewers, they claimed that Dow Chemical Company would finally accept their responsibility and fully compensate the citizens of Bhopal for all their suffering. They claimed that Dow would spend US $12 billion on compensations and put human lives before profit. The news spread and it took the news world a few hours to recognise the hoax. As a result Dow’s shares fell three points and they had to publicly announce that there was no basis for the claim that they would take full responsibility and compensate the sufferers of the disaster. Critique from the media and corporate world concerned getting the hopes of the citizens of Bhopal up, seeing it as a cruel joke. There definitely are some ethical issues to this kind of action, but all in all the Yes Men got the wanted result, a wider awareness of the fact that the victims of Bhopal are still suffering 25 years after the disaster and that they haven’t been sufficiently compensated.

According to Vinthagens categorizations of resistance these actions can be seen as highly communicative and symbolic. Quite often they create, or at least dramatize, the kind of change that they wish for. As I have mentioned before this can also result in very different interpretations of the action. In this sense the actions can also be seen as value-rational actions even though they may not be the most effective way to reach the goal, and certainly not the only way. (Vinthagen, 2005:171f)

All in all, I think that the Yes Men’s way of trying to change the world is very interesting. They do stir up some bad feeling among the press, authorities and quite often, I can imagine, among their viewers and readers. But in the end, if they have managed to get people to think twice about the system they criticise and maybe this time with a more critical eye, haven’t the Yes Men succeeded with what they set out to do, regardless what people may think of their methods?

References:

Students for Bhopal : International Campaign for justice in Bhopal http://studentsforbhopal.org/

The Yes Men www.theyesmen.org

The New York Times – spoof news paper http://www.nytimes-se.com/

Vinthagen, Stellan (2005) Ickevåldsaktion – En social praktik av motstånd och konstruktion, doktorsavhandling, Göteborgs Universitet, Institutionen för freds- och utvecklingsforskning

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